Benin: Royal Arts of a West African Kingdom (Art Institute of Chicago) by Kathleen Bickford Berzock
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In the late 15th century, the Kingdom of Benin (located in present-day southwestern Nigeria) established a mercantile relationship with Portugal, significantly increasing its wealth and might. Benin became a regional powerhouse and, under a long lineage of divine rulers, or obas, it wielded great economic and political influence. The obas also supported guilds of artistschief among them brass casters and ivory carverswhom they employed to produce objects that honored royal ancestors, recorded history, and glorified life at court. The sophisticated creations of Benin’s royal artists stand among the greatest works of African art.
This stunning book features a selection of Benin’s extraordinary artworks that range from finely cast bronze figures, altar heads, and wall plaques to ivory tusks, pendants, and arm cuffs embellished in detailed bas relief. An insightful essay outlines the kingdom’s history and sheds light on these masterworks by describing their production and function in the context of the royal court.