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Benin Bronzes Wien

International Symposium on the subject organized by the Museum May 9th-10th 2007

Court Arts from Nigeria

May 9 – September 3, 2007

Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna 
1010 Wien | Neue Burg

Tel. +43 1 525 24- 0 | Fax +43 1 525 24- 5199 |

Court Arts from Nigeria

May 9th/10th 2007
Information Tel. +43 1 525 24- 5052 oder 5053  

Ivory and bronze sculptures from the West African Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, are among the continent’s most important and valuable works of art. Included in the corpus are elaborate bas-relief plaques, stately commemorative king’s heads and towering elephant tusks embellished with detailed figurative scenes illustrating life at court and the heroic deeds of kings and warriors. These artworks glorified the king, as the political and spiritual head of his people, and honored his ancestors.

Benin bronzes dwarfCourt Dwarfs
Bronze, 14/15th century
© Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum with MVK and ÖTM

The detailed workmanship and outstanding aesthetic quality of Benin’s royal sculpture has been compared to the work of the celebrated Renaissance artist, Cellini. Its wealth of iconographic detail conveys the sumptuousness of the royal court and its historical importance as a regional powerhouse in West Africa from the 16th through the 19th centuries.

In “Benin—Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria” over 300 carefully selected objects offer a broad survey of the royal arts and culture of the Kingdom of Benin from its inception in the fourteenth century to its overthrow by British forces in the late nineteenth century; the exhibition further documents the kingdom’s reconstitution during the colonial period and its continuity into the twenty-first century.

Importantly, the exhibition marks the first time that masterpieces from Benin - dispersed in European and American collections since the late-nineteenth century - are reunited and interpreted in light of modern scholarship. Many of these superb works of art are also important ritual objects, valuable symbols of status, or nuanced historical documents that illustrate court ceremonies, versions of which survive to this day. The exhibition will interweave these and other multifaceted themes to reconstruct and interpret the kingdom’s long, rich history.

benin plaque Plaque: Inside the royal palace
16/17 century
© Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin,
Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

The exhibition is organized by the Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology) in Vienna and includes over 60 works from its celebrated Benin collection. In preparing the exhibition curators and museum specialists from Vienna have worked closely with museum colleagues and scholars from Europe, Nigeria, and the United States, and with authorities from the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the royal family and officials of the Benin Kingdom. Close collaboration with the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) in Berlin and the British Museum in London, where the largest and most important Benin collections are housed, were also of seminal importance.

Europeans have been aware of Benin since the sixteenth century, when close economic ties developed between the kingdom and Portugal. From these earliest times artists in Benin executed curios, including magnificent ivory salt cellars, spoons, and horns, for sale to European sailors and merchants, but the depth of their artistry was never fully revealed.

benin ivoryHead of a Leopard, ivory
© Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum with MVK and ÖTM

In 1897 British forces occupied and burned the city of Benin and destroyed the royal palace. Following these tragic events, hundreds of bronze and ivory sculptures, along with royal regalia and other palace furnishings, were shipped to London, where they aroused considerable attention from the European public.

From the fifteenth century on, commemorative heads of kings were the central element of royal ancestral altars that also featured other freestanding bronze sculptures. In the seventeenth century richly carved ivory tusks were added to these ensembles and in the eighteenth century tableaux of bronze figures were introduced. Unique bronze bas-relief plaques illustrating complex court hierarchy, royal rituals, and historical events of the kingdom, were probably produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; according to a seventeenth-century European visitor, they once adorned pillars within the royal palace. When British soldiers occupied the palace they found them in a storage room where it has been speculated they were preserved as a kind of archive. Among the plaque’s imagery are depictions of annual ceremonies comprising rituals to guarantee the survival and prosperity of the kingdom and its inhabitants. The ceremonies feature courtiers and dignitaries from the court’s complex hierarchy paying homage to their king attired in magnificent ceremonial robes and bearing bronze, ivory or coral insignia. These traditions are still very much alive in Benin today. While they have maintained their spiritual importance, they have evolved into popular and colourful festivals that are broadcast on Nigerian television for the enjoyment of a national audience.

benin statueThe many times reproduced by forgers Figure of a young female
benin statue
17/18 century
© Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna
May 9 – September 3, 2007

Musée du quai Branly, Paris
October 2, 2007 – January 6, 2008

Ethnologisches Museum,
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
February 7 – May 25, 2008

Art Institute of Chicago
June 27 – September 21, 2008

More images

related Benin creation

Court Arts from Nigeria
May 9th/10th 2007

Tel. +43 1 525 24- 5052 oder 5053

Conference language is English

The exhibition Benin — Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria marks the first time that
masterpieces from Benin dispersed in European and American collections since the
late nineteenth century are reunited. Over 300 carefully selected objects offer a broad
survey of the royal arts and culture of the Kingdom of Benin from its inception in the
fourteenth century to its overthrow by British forces in the late nineteenth century. The
exhibition further documents the kingdom’s reconstitution during the colonial period and its
continuity into the twenty-first century.

On the occasion of the opening of this important Benin-exhibition the Museum für
Völkerkunde Wien organizes an international symposium to highlight the latest research
results on art and cultural history of the Benin kingdom from a broad perspective.
For the symposium the most well-known experts from Nigeria, Europe and the United
States are invited to present the latest results of historical, anthropological and
iconographic research.

This offers the singular opportunity for the researchers with differing disciplinary
backgrounds to exchange and discuss their research results in the context of a scholarly
meeting open to the public. Members of the Benin royal family and representatives of the
artists’ guilds in Benin will contribute with their important inside view.


Mittwoch, 9. Mai 2007 / Wednesday May 9, 2007

Benin Art and its Turbulent History.
From 08:30 on Registration

09:45 Official Welcome and Opening Session

10:00 Barbara Plankensteiner, Curator, Museum für Völkerkunde Wien
Benin Art. The Causes and Routes of its Dispersal Worldwide

10:30 Prince G.I. Akenzua, Benin City
The Loss of the Benin Artworks and their Original Function

11:00 Coffee Break

11:30 Joseph Eboreime, Director General, National Commission
for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria
Benin Art in the Future Scheme of Nigerian Museums

12:00 Christian Feest, Director, Museum für Völkerkunde Wien
Observations on the Restitution of Cultural Property in a Global Perspective

12:30 Lunch Break

The State of Research on Benin Art and History


14:00 Patrick Darling, Bournemouth University, UK
Re-Writing Benin’s History: The Conflicting Roles of Archaeologists,
Historians, Ethnographers and Traditional Politics over time

14:30 Adam Jones, Institut für Afrikanistik, Universität Leipzig
European Sources for Benin and its Art in the 17th and 18th Centuries

15:00 Benson Osarhieme Osadolor, University of Benin, Benin City
Benin History Studies. The State of the Discipline and the Flowering of Local History

15:30 Stefan Eisenhofer, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München
Local Histories in Benin and their Problematic

16:00 Coffee Break


16:30 Kathy Curnow, Philadelphia, USA
Benin Art and its Position and Relations in a larger Regional Perspective

17:00 Barbara Blackmun, Las Mesa College San Diego, California, USA
State of Research on the Interpretation of Benin Iconography

Donnerstag, 10. Mai 2007 / Thursday May 10, 2007
Continuation : The State of Research on Benin Art and History


08:30 Flora Edouwaye Kaplan, New York University
Photography in Benin. A Source of Memories

09:00 Adepeju Layiwola, Lagos University
New Forms of Commemoration and Remembrance:
Commemorative Textiles in Benin

09:30 Charles Gore, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) London
Memory-Making in Art, Ritual and Performance of Benin

10:00 Coffee Break

Collection Histories

10:30 Gisela Völger, Köln
Felix von Luschan and his Relevance for Contemporary Research on Benin

11:00 Silvia Dolz, Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden
History and Relevance of the Fairly Known Dresden Benin Collection

11:30 Kay Heymer, Essen
Benin Art and Modernism

Benin Art today and the Quest for Authenticity

12:00 Daniel Inneh, Benin City
Surviving Guilds in Benin. Their Function in Society and Relation to the Royal Palace

12:30 Chief K. Osarhenhen Inneh, Benin City, Ine of the Bronzecasters Guild
Prospects for the Bronzecasters Guild in Benin

13:00 Lunch Break

14:30 Joseph Nevadomsky, Fullerton University California, USA
Contemporary Brass-Casting Production and Styles in Benin

15:00 Paula Ben-Amos Girshick, Indiana University, USA
Benin Art in the Global Market: Circulating across the African Continent

15:30 Chika Okeke-Agulu, Philadelphia
The Burden of Tradition: Modern Edo Artists and the Legacy of “Benin” Art

16:00 Coffee Break

16:30 Thomas Fillitz, Universität Wien
The Issue of Authenticity in Relation to African Art

17:00 Peter Junge, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin
The Chronology of Benin Art. Limitations of Stylistic and Scientific Methods of Dating

17:30 Break

Benin as Trademark. The Production and Market of Fake Benin Bronzes

18:00 Roundtable Discussion with:
Barbara Blackmun, Alexander von Berswordt-Wallrabe, Joseph
Nevadomsky, Peter Junge, Peter Krejsa
Moderation/Chair: Barbara Plankensteiner

Information und Anmeldung/Information and Registration:
Tel. +43 1 525 24-5052 oder 5053

Teilnahmegebühr/Participation Fee: € 40,- (inkl. Ust.)

Ermäßigt/Reduction (Studenten/Students, Mitglieder des Vereins Freunde der Völkerkunde
und des Vereins der Freunde des KHM ): €15,- (inkl. Ust.)

Roundtable Discussion: Benin as Trademark: Eintritt frei/Free Admission

Begrenzte Teilnehmerzahl/Limited number of participants

Anmeldung und Einzahlung bis spätestens 27. April 2007/Registration and Payment will be
closed by 27th April 2007.

Konferenzsprache ist Englisch
Conference language is English

Konto Nr. / Account Number 92.057.968
Österreichische Postsparkasse
Blz. / Bank Code60000
IBAN: AT186000000092057968

Bitte geben Sie bei der Einzahlung den Verwendungszweck an/Please specify that
payment is for: „208617/Symposium Benin


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