Friday, January 24, 2020

These Artifacts Were Stolen. Why Is It So Hard to Get Them Back?

By Alex Marshall
A series of brass plaques are the most famous of the items known as the Benin Bronzes, but the looted hoard also includes items made from wood and ivory.
The Benin Bronzes are not actually from the country of Benin; they come from the ancient Kingdom of Benin, now in southern Nigeria. They’re also not made from bronze. The various artifacts we call the Benin Bronzes include carved elephant tusks and ivory leopard statues, even wooden heads. The most famous items are 900 brass plaques, dating mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, once nailed to pillars in Benin’s royal palace. There are at least 3,000 items scattered worldwide, maybe thousands more. No one’s entirely sure. Their importance was appreciated in Europe from the moment they were first seen there in the 1890s. Curators at the British Museum compared them at that time with the best of Italian and Greek sculpture. [More]
A carved ivory mask, worn by the oba, or ruler, of Benin during ceremonies, now in the collection of the British Museum. Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times