During the British Expedition to Benin City (Edo) in 1897 objects made of brass, ivory, coral and wood were looted by British soldiers from the royal palace, its storerooms and compounds. Some of these objects were sold or exchanged on the coast. However, many were brought to the UK where they were sold through private auction, donated to museums, or retained by soldiers of the expedition. This plaque was previously in the collection of the Cranmore Ethnographical Museum established by Harry Geoffrey and Irene Marguerite Beasley in 1928. The Beasley ledgers record its purchase on 13 July 1928 from Åke Sjögren, Stockholm. Archives in the Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm record that this plaque (and plaque Af1944,04.9) were bought by Sjögren on 11(?) January 1899 from the London-based dealer William Webster for £15 each. The entire Beasley collection was distributed following Harry Beasley's death in 1939. This plaque formed part of the major donation made by Irene Beasley to the British Museum in 1944. See Collection File: Af1944,04.1-338.
Relief plaque, lost-wax cast in brass. Narrow plaque, rectangular in form without side flanges. Background surface decorated with river leaf patterns and stippling. Two nail holes at top right and centre; partial hole at top left; two holes midway at left and right; two holes at bottom left and centre. Depicts single standing figure of the Ehioba, facing front, holding a forked switch aloft in right hand. Has partially shaved head with tiered hairstyle on either side, central lock at front and curled side plait at left. Triangular mark down nose. Oro protrusion attached to top of head. Wears deep beaded collar, full-length, long-sleeved patterned gown, and bracelets.
The relief brass plaques that used to decorate the Oba's (king's) palace are among the most well-known of all the royal arts of Benin. Although frequently described as 'Benin Bronzes' most plaques are made of leaded brass in various compositions. It is widely accepted that they date to the 16th-17th centuries. In the years prior to the British Expedition royal influence in Benin was increasingly under threat from rival powers, both internal and external, with a focus on economic power and control of the important trading monopolies. However, the court and palace remained the political and spiritual centre of the Benin Kingdom. Earlier accounts written by Europeans visiting the city describe its size and scale. The palace complex was set up around atrium courtyards; some had galleries with wooden pillars supporting the roof. Brass plaques, probably made in matching pairs, were fixed to these pillars. The Benin brass plaques represent a distinct and unique corpus of work, unparalleled elsewhere on the continent. They are cast using the cire perdue (lost wax) technique and show significant variation in the depth of the relief. Some of the plaques portray historical events or commemorate successful wars, while others are a vivid depiction of Benin court life and ritual. Several groups of plaques show clear stylistic similarities. William B. Fagg suggested that these plaques represent the work of master brass casters. Fagg, William, 1973, 'Nigerian Images', London: Lund Humphries Gunsch, Kathryn, 2018, 'Benin plaques: a 16th century imperial monument', London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group ~Ehioba is leader of Ooton guild, selected from descendants of previous rulers of Benin, who serve high priest Osuan. Bulge on chest represents concealed jawbones of deceased Iyase (political opponent to Oba).