Africa Direct
Africa Direct

Benin Bronze Portrait Figure

AvailabilityIn stock
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Brand Unbranded
Type of Object Metal
Country of Origin Nigeria
People Edo
Materials Bronze, metal
Approximate Age 20th century
Height (in) 9.5
Width (in) 4.75
Depth (in) 7
Overall Condition Good. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.
Damage/Repair Patina, small holes, some casting imperfections, and wear. See photos for details

A lovely stylized portrait figure in bronze.

Benin bronze art refers to a group of metal sculptures and decorative pieces created by the Edo people of the Kingdom of Benin, located in present-day Nigeria, from the 13th century onwards. These artworks were primarily made from brass, which was cast using the lost-wax technique, a complex process that involved creating a wax model of the desired sculpture, encasing it in clay, firing the clay to melt the wax, and then pouring molten brass into the resulting cavity. The final product was then polished and decorated with intricate details and designs.

The Benin bronze artworks were primarily commissioned by the Oba, or king, of Benin to commemorate important events such as coronations, battles, and religious ceremonies, as well as to honor ancestors and other notable individuals. The sculptures depicted a wide range of subjects, including human figures, animals, mythological creatures, and objects of daily life. They were often imbued with religious and symbolic meanings, and were used to communicate important cultural values and beliefs.

The Benin bronze artworks are known for their exceptional craftsmanship and artistic quality, as well as their intricate and detailed designs. They were highly prized by European collectors and traders who encountered them in the 16th century, and were eventually dispersed throughout Europe and the Americas. Many of these artworks are now housed in museums and private collections around the world.

"The bronze sculpture of West Africa serves as testimony to the profuse and highly developed artistic tradition evident in this part of the continent. This technically advanced and aesthetically refined form of expression has been and still is the preoccupation of art historians, anthropologists and artists.

The earliest findings of cast bronze artefacts were excavated in Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria (9th century). The tradition of bronze casting in West Africa reached its peak during the great kingdoms of the 14th-19th century. The demanding cire perdue technique was used for the production of different objects by bronze casters who, in West Africa, formed special guilds and occupied an important position in society due to the ambivalent nature of their work – working with metal. Only the king had the authority to order the production of objects in bronze, control their distribution as well as the use of metal.

Ancestral alters of the king’s palace were a place furnished with commemorative sculptures which included busts and heads of kings. Sometimes the sculpted heads were used to hold long, intricately decorated carvings. However, a variety of other objects also found their place on the altars: cast-brass bells were symbols of rank and the royal regalia also included bronze (brass and copper alloy) masks, rattle-staffs, pendant sculptures and sculptures of animals such as the rooster or mudfish."