Benin Kingdom

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Benin Kingdom peoples



H. 49 cm (19 ¼”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 50.30.6

Photo by Dirk Bakker


There are over 900 plaques dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This was the period of great warrior kings. Benin conquered surrounding areas and expanded the kingdom as far west as Wydah (in modern Benin) and as far east as the Niger River.  The sixteenth century was also the period when the Portuguese arrived bringing trade goods (especially a steady supply of brass) and providing mercenary troops. This was also a time of great artistic production, and a number of art forms, such as the plaques, began and flourished during this era. Because a two-dimensional rectangular format is unusual for African art, scholars assume that the artists who made the plaque had seen European books. The subject matter is primarily of political ritual, this one for example, shows some of the court attendants.

Chief’s house, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.