A sculpture of a standing man. He wears a decorated skirt, helmet, and a cross around his neck. He holds part of a sword in his left hand; his right hand is clasped, but does not hold an object.
This cast copper alloy figure dates to the 16th century. It was made by an artist working for the king (Oba) of Benin, an empire that flourished in present-day Nigeria from around 1400 until 1897, when it was sacked by British punitive forces. Works of cast copper alloy, like this example, documented life at court and glorified the power and wealth of the Oba. The figure may represent either a priest or messenger. The figure's skirt depicts stylized faces, which may represent the Portuguese voyagers who conducted extensive trade with Benin beginning in the 15th century.
(Dr. Christa Clarke, March 2003)
Exhibition HistoryExhibition History
Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Great French Paintings from The Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern," January 29–April 9, 1995.
Clarke, Christa. African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L'Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015, 178-179.
Clarke, Christa. "Defining African Art." African Arts 36, no. 1 (2003): 49, fig. 16.
Dolkart, Judith F., Martha Lucy, and Derek Gillman. The Barnes Foundation: Masterworks. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012: 348, 349.
Plankensteiner, Barbara, ed. Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Ghent: Snoeck Publishers, 2007: 28, 103, 105, 333-334.
Wattenmaker, Richard J. and Anne Distel. Great French Paintings from The Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern. New York: Alfred A. Knopf in association with Lincoln University Press, 1993, 23, fig. 9.