Essay about The Benin Bronzes

1663 Words 7 Pages
This essay deals with the nature of a cross cultural encounter between the Benin people and Portuguese traders in the 15th and 16th centuries, which resulted in the depiction of Portuguese figures in Benin brass plaques. It will propose that this contact between people with different cultures was on the basis of 'mutual regard' (Woods, K. 2008, p. 16), and although the Portuguese had qualms about idolatry in Benin it will show that assumptions by Europeans up to the 20th century of the primitive nature of tribal African societies was inaccurate with regard to the Benin people, who had a society based on the succession of the King or 'Oba', a Royal Family and Nobility. The essay will finally suggest that Benin’s increase in wealth following …show more content…
2008, p. 8), then resold them further along the coast, using the proceeds to buy gold.

According to Joseph Eboreime, a Nigerian historian, the bronze heads are a visual history of the Benin Royal Family from before 1440 until 1897 (Woods, K. 2008, p. 12). It appears that the bronzes were seen only by the Oba and Royal Court with access to the royal compounds and rooms, during ceremonies commemorating their ancestors (Ben-Amos in Woods, K. 2008, p. 12) . It is also unlikely they were seen in situ by the Portuguese traders either (Pereira, D. P. also Pina, R. both in Woods, K. and MacKenzie, R. 2008, p. 33).

Finally, the plaques are clear evidence of a mutually beneficial cultural encounter with Portuguese traders in which both parties gained. It could be speculated that the rectilinear form of the plaques arose from Benin craftsmen seeing Portuguese oil paintings, but there is no evidence of this. The plaques, however, do first appear after contact with the Portuguese, following which there was a resurgence in bronze sculptures, probably as a result of the increased wealth and confidence of Benin.

How and why have European attitudes to the display of Benin art in museums and galleries changed?

It is proposed to show that the ethos of European colonial expansion largely defined and classified Benin art and dictated how it should be interpreted and displayed when first seen in European…