The art of the kingdom of Benin is the historic heritage of an ancient African civilization that existed in the south of the current state of Nigeria for more than five hundred years (14th-20th centuries). The bronze articles made in the lost wax technique are objects for ritual purposes related to the cult of ancestors and to worship of the supreme ruler, the Oba. Complete with carved ivory tusks, they were abundantly displayed on the palace altars.
According to travelers, the palace of the Oba was notable for its splendid interior decoration. The palace galleries were faced with bronze plaques with bas-relief images of war feats, battles, deified ancestors, priests, and animal patrons of the royal dynasty: snake, leopard, and crocodile. In 1897, in a military campaign, the British regular army bombarded the palace of the Oba ruler, complete with priceless objects of the court art. As a result of multiple sales and auctions, the Benin art monuments found their way into the collections of Western museums and private collectors.
The Benin art collection was donated to the Museum by Hans Meyer, Professor of the Leipzig University, in 1900 (Col. No. 595). Hans Meyer was a famous German traveler and geographer who explored Africa’s inner regions. An enthusiast and arts patron, he collected works of Benin art and donated them to museums, thus preserving unique artifacts for researchers and world community.
The collection is presented at the Africa permanent exhibition, being Russia’s only comprehensive collection of Benin art.