Ivory and bronze sculptures from the West African Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, are among the continent’s most important and valuable works of art. The detailed workmanship and outstanding aesthetic quality of Benin’s royal sculpture has been compared to the work of the celebrated Renaissance artist, Cellini. Its wealth of iconographic detail conveys the sumptuousness of the royal court and its historical importance as a regional powerhouse in West Africa from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
Through this broad survey of the royal arts and culture of the Kingdom of Benin, the exhibition traces Benin’s history—from its origins to the arrival of Portuguese envoys in the 15th century to the growing wealth of the kingdom from coastal trade. It also looks at themes of kingship, hierarchy, and ritual within Benin’s royal court. In 1897 British forces invaded the Benin kingdom. The exhibition closes by considering the reconfiguration of Benin’s monarchy and its arts following this course-altering event.
The Art Institute’s presentation of Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria features approximately 220 works of art from collections in Europe, Nigeria, and the United States.
The 40-page catalogue Benin: Royal Arts of a West African Kingdom highlights 22 of the exhibition's masterworks and includes an essay by curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock.
Art Institute of Chicago Web Site