Tribal art of  Africa: Artworks from the kingdom of Benin

L’art tribal de l’Afrique: Oeuvres du royaume de Bénin

Arte tribale dell’Africa: Opere dal regno del Benin

Stammeskunst aus Afrika: Kunstobjekte aus dem Königreich Benin

The kingdom of Benin began in the 8th century when the Edo people settled in West Africa. By the 15th century it had grown into a wealthy kingdom with a powerful ruler, known as the Oba. The Obas ruled and  lived in sumptuous palaces decorated with a stunning array of splendid artifacts produced by the Benin artisans. As the power of the Obas grew and their influence proliferated the territory they ruled became a empire. The largest man made structure on the planet is attributed to the kingdom of Benin: Excavations have uncovered a rural network of earthen walls  8 thousand miles long, raised to mark out territories for towns and cities that would have taken an estimated 150 million man hours to build and must have taken hundreds of years to build. Later visitors in the 16th and 17th centuries brought back to  Europe tales of a Great Benin.  A 17th century Dutch engraving  published in Amsterdam in 1668 wrote: ” The king’s palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles…”


A few examples of the stunning artworks produced by the artisans of the kingdom of Benin



A page from a volume of the Pitt Rivers museum archive showing some very fine carved Benin Ivory staffs acquired in 1898, shortly after the British Punitive expedition to the city of Benin in response to the killing of British missionaries and officials in Benin



African art Benin Artworks

Bronze plaques from the Oba`s palace at Benin, these plaques were collected from a storage shed near the palace during the punitive expidition and had once covered the front of the palace, before it was heavily damaged by a storm: British Museum

Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
A very fine Pair of Arm Cuffs, period:18th century,Material: Ivory, British Museum London,
These cuffs show superb workmanship of the highest quality and are typical of the level of artistry of Benin craftsmen



African art from the Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
A superb Double-Gong and Striker, 16th century, material: Ivory
H. 36.5 cm (14 3/4 in.)
British Museum, London,

A stunning example of very fine carving and detailed workmanship of the Benin artisans.

This extremely fine carved ivory double gong is an artistic masterpiece. Its central image is the oba in coral regalia supported by the high priests osa and osuan, officials who tend the altars of the kingdom’s two patron gods. Today a similar ivory gong is carried by the oba during Emobo, the last of the empowering rites of the Igue festival. The oba gently taps the ivory instrument, creating a rhythmic sound to calm and dismiss unruly spirits from the kingdom.

The Kingdom of Benin