They were created from at least the 16th century onwards in the West African Kingdom of Benin, by specialist guilds working for the royal court of the Oba (king) in Benin City. The Kingdom also supported guilds working in other materials such as ivory, leather, coral and wood, and the term ‘Benin Bronzes’ is sometimes used to refer to historic objects produced using these other materials.
Many pieces were commissioned specifically for the ancestral altars of past Obas and Queen Mothers. They were also used in other rituals to honour the ancestors and to validate the accession of a new Oba. Among the most well-known of the Benin Bronzes are the cast brass plaques which once decorated the Benin royal palace and which provide an important historical record of the Kingdom of Benin. This includes dynastic history, as well as social history, and insights into its relationships with neighbouring kingdoms, states and societies. The Benin Bronzes are preceded by earlier West African cast brass traditions, dating back into the medieval period.
How far back?
2020 | Present