Edo, Court of Benin
Plaque of a War Chief, 16th/17th century
33.9 x 28.8 x 4.7 cm (13 3/8 x 11 3/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
Samuel P. Avery Fund, 1933.782
Ivory, brass and coral have long been highly valued in the Benin kingdom (established about 1300). At one time all such materials were owned by the oba, or king, who distributed them to chiefs, title holders, and other important individuals. The warrior in this brass plaque, one of many from the magnificent royal palace complex in Benin City that was destroyed by fire in 1897, wears a coral-studded cap and high coral-beaded collar, indications of his high rank. The raised horseshoe shape in the upper left corner of the plaque represents a copper or brass ring, called a manilla. Manillas manufactured in Europe were used as a form of currency and, when melted, provided an important source of brass for Benin royal casting.