L. Oba with Musicians R. Oba on Horseback
EDO PEOPLE Anonymous
16th-17th c African (West) Benin Kingdom Sculpture
(pre-1500 - present)
Benin Kingdom. Nigeria. Africa.
L. Washington D.C. National Gallery of Art. R. New York. Metropolitain Museum
There has been a great deal of discussion about the relationship between the naturalistic bronzes of Ife and the more stylized, and much more numerous, bronzes of Benin. One legend says that after a rebellion in the Benin capitol, which was approximately 100 miles south east of Ife, had wiped out the ruler, the elders of Benin called on Odudua, the Oni of the Ife, to send them a ruler. He sent them his youngest son who married a local girl and their child Eweke became the first ruler of the new dynasty. This legend is thought to have been invented to serve as the Yoruba justification for assuming power of the Edo capitol at Benin City.
The Benin figures thought to be the earliest are finely modeled, but as time went on they became less subtle but more decorated, leaving very little empty space. The Edo rulers of Benin were given the title of Oba, and here we see two representations of the Oba. In both cases he is portrayed in high relief on a plaque surrounded by his courtiers and wearing jewelry and a heavy collar which covers his mouth. On the right he rides a horse, an important symbol of status, flanked by two guards who support him and sheltered from the sun by attendants carrying umbrellas, also important status symbols. On the left he seems to be prepared for war, carrying sword and shield and dressed in armor and helmet. There are tiny figures in the upper corners of both plaques, Benin soldiers on the right and long-haired Portuguese with feathers in their caps on the left. Is he preparing for war against them, or merely demonstrating his prowess?
The plaques apparently were used to decorate the palace of the Oba in Benin City. Olfert Daper, a European who visited the city and the palace in 1668 described a great fortified city, enclosed by a rampart nearly ten feet high.
The city was divided by thirty broad streets which were flanked by solidly built houses with courtyards and long interior galleries. The palace was constructed of smooth-polished marble-like clay walls and long rows of wooded pillar which were covered with bronze plaques.
BENIN KINGDOM | L. Oba with Musicians R. Oba on Horseback | c. 1500-1699 | African | Benin