Heritage Treasures: The Benin Bronzes

Heritage is the culture we value rather than what we own.

The Benin Bronzes are a group of more than a thousand metal plaques, reliefs and sculptures that once decorated the Royal Palace of the Oba in the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria.

The objects were created from the 13th century onwards by the Edo people and include portrait busts in brass and bronze, some using the sophisticated lost wax method of casting, which was once thought to be an exclusively European invention.

In 1897, most of the plaques and other objects were seized by the British Army in a punitive raid on the Palace of the Oba, during an action to consolidate British imperial control of Southern Nigeria. Some of the objects were sold to pay for the costs of the military action and ended up in various European museums. However, a number, around 200, were taken by the British Museum. Yet others ended up in the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford.

Image: ‘Head of Oba’ bronze sculpture by Edo artist, late 15th century.

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