One of the first projects I remember working on at the museum was briefly helping with was “Iyare!” – a fascinating exhibit of African material from Benin – and one of the most-eye catching pieces in the exhibit was this intricate plaque. The bronze plaques from the 16th Century Nigerian kingdom have long amazed people since they were “discovered” by Europeans in the 19th century, and this plaque is much the same.
This plaque, a sibling of one of the ones featured in the BBC video, was cast from a clay mold created by an expert craftsperson.
Pictures really don’t do this piece justice. It is about the size of a lunch tray and fairly flat, but weighs 50 lbs – they weren’t messing around when they made it. The unique characteristics for all seven figures (the main guy even has a belly button!) and the intricate detail on all of the shields, clothing and weaponry, are so intense that one can only imagine how much time was spent crafting the mold for this cast.
To really get the full impact of this object (as well as so many others), head over the museum and check out African display, especially our ongoing project Imagine Africa, which complements and modernizes our permanent collection.
Penn Museum Object AF2066
See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.