Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boston Museum of Fine Arts Recieves Benin Collection

Barbara and I had the opportunity of visiting this new installation of the Lehman collection at the museum a few months ago. It is by any standard superbly installed and beautifully lit. The museum has also provided the collection history of the objects as researched by the staff. The link is:  We will certainly find this practice become standard policy for most institutions in the future. We remarked on this blog some time ago that Boston was one of the first museums to appoint a full time research expert to track and compile collection history on objects within the museum's collection.

MFA receives gift of African art

"The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has received the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of 34 rare West African works of art. Thirty-two objects are from the Kingdom of Benin in present-day southern Nigeria and two are from present-day Guinea and Sierra Leone. The Lehman Collection is the single greatest private holding of objects from the Benin Kingdom (not to be confused with the West African Republic of BĂ©nin, the former Dahomey) dating from the late 15th century to the 19th
century. The gift, which includes 28 bronzes and six ivories, will go on display in late 2013 in a gallery dedicated to the arts of Benin. In addition to highlighting these works in a gallery, the Museum will present a number of public programs that further the appreciation of the Kingdom of Benin’s renowned arts, cultural heritage, and complex history.
Famous for its sophisticated artistry, the Benin Kingdom dates back to the late 13th century. The kingdom expanded and flourished from the late 14th through the late 19th century, when it came under British influence upon the conclusion of a treaty with Britain in 1892. Five years later, after Benin soldiers attacked and killed most members of a British delegation en route to Benin City, the British launched the Punitive Expedition of 1897, sending  military forces to the capital and defeating its ruler, Oba Ovonramwen. It is estimated that the British removed more than 4,000 objects from the Benin palace during this military action. Numerous pieces were later sold in Great Britain to defray the costs of the campaign, and were acquired by private collectors and museums in Europe and the United States. Many works of art in the Lehman Collection are known to have left Benin in 1897, and the remainder likely left at the same time.
Among the most famous works from the kingdom are its bronzes (copper alloy pieces created in the lost wax-casting technique), which range from sculptural heads of kings and freestanding figures to Commemorative head of a defeated neighboring leader (late 15th–early 16th century), shown above, thought to depict a foreign ruler subjugated by the Benin army during the kingdom’s expansion. It was once displayed on an ancestral altar created in honor of a deceased Oba (king), recalling his achievements and connecting his successors with the royal ancestor. This work and the many others are a testament to the world of the Benin kings and the brilliance of artists who worked for the court." Boston Museum of Fine Art
pendants and high-relief plaques that once adorned the walls of courtyards in the palace. Artists also crafted beautiful utilitarian objects in bronze and ivory. Among the most notable bronzes in the collection is the

The Nigerian government has made numerous appeals to have these objects repatriated to Nigeria.

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