RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRASSES

The Society of Antiquities newsletter ( Salon: Issue 494) reports on a restitution deal of one of the major collections of Benin bronzes back to Nigeria.

The Bronzes, which are actually Brasses, are from the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Benin which was looted by the British during the Benin Expedition of 1897 as part of British subjection of Nigeria.

Wikipedia reports that ‘Two hundred pieces were taken to the British Museum in London, while the rest found their way to other European museums. A large number are held by the British Museum[ with other notable collections in Germany and the United States.’

The Smithsonian has recently made a similar arrangement to restore their brasses to Nigeria, and UK collection The Great North Museum: Hancock, has followed suit joining Jesus College, Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen. (The Art Newspaper)The British Museum has refused and is indeed prevented from so doing by an Act of Parliament.

An interesting sidelight on the collection is that the wealth of the Benin Kingdom benefited from income from the slave trade.

This is what The Society of Antiquities newsletter ( Salon: Issue 494) says:

Two Benin Bronzes Returned

Last week, Germany signed a restitution agreement with Nigeria. The agreement covers 1,100 artefacts currently held by the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, the Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Hamburg’s Museum of World Cultures and the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony. The agreement immediately puts these objects into Nigerian ownership; the affected Museums will then negotiate directly with the Nigerian Government whether they return to Nigeria, or remain in Germany under custodial agreements.

Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Culture Minister, described the agreement as ‘the single largest known repatriation of artefacts in the world’. It was marked by the return of two Benin Bronzes – an eighteenth century 35kg head of an oba and a 16th-century relief depicting an oba accompanied by guards or companions. German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said ‘It was wrong to take the bronzes and it was wrong to keep them. This is the beginning to right the wrongs.’

Image credits: The returned Benin Bronzes, Martin Franken

The Society of Antiquities newsletter ( Salon: Issue 494)

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