Box in the Shape of a Palace Building

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Box in the Shape of a Palace Building, 17th/18th century

32 x 61 cm (12 5/8 x 24 in.)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, III C 8488

This hinged box, which most likely represents the oba’s meetinghouse, is a rare representation of a palace building. A slithering snake runs down the length of the tall central turret, and a large bird stands at its apex. These represent the massive sculptures, cast in sections, which stood as impressive markers of the powerful oba. Two figures carrying rifles stand on the rooftop facing two additional birds (one now missing). These may evoke Oba Esigie, who ordered his soldiers to shoot the Bird of Prophecy, thereby establishing his own destiny.