The Benin Bronzes refer to a prolific collection of more than a thousand bronze pieces made by the African people of Edos also known as the Benin people between the 13th and 13th centuries XVI. In this important set of tribal art, the works developed during the reign of Esigie around the middle of the 16th century are especially important and of great quality.
Although the pieces are collectively known as Benin bronzes, in reality not all sculptures were made of bronze, some of them were made of wood, brass or ivory.
The bronzes mostly came from the royal palace in Benin and were looted by British soldiers who stormed the monarch's palace in 1897 commanded by Admiral Sir Harry Rowson.
When the British brought the pieces to the continent, interest in African art and culture increased. Probably the pieces from Benin decorated the walls of the monastic residence or the homes of the bourgeois elite, most of the pieces that the British brought with them represented animal figures but without a doubt the ones that caused the greatest sensation were the high-reliefs made using the molten wax technique.
Despite the fact that bronze work is known to be ancient in this area of Africa, the technique is carried out with such thoroughness and mastery that it seemedImpossible that a culture as ancient as that of the Benin people, was the architect of these impressive pieces. In fact, when similar pieces were found in the city of Ife in 1939, it was thought that the Yoruba people had instilled the molten wax technique in Benin, however, when the pieces were analyzed by experts it was found that the first bronzes from Benin (13th century) were prior to those from Ife (14th and 15th centuries), the former being the clear antecedents of the latter.
Traditionally there has been a tendency to establish a division between the sculptures of Benin: the works of the first stage (until the middle of the 16th century) are simple works made with a fine patina of bronze and, although somewhat schematic, the figures and the setting are easily discernible.
The second stage (from the mid-16th century to the end of the 17th) would correspond to more lavish works that decorated the palaces and representations of deified monarchs or high officials, but without a doubt the best representations correspond to commemorative stelae of big wins.
The third and last stage would correspond to the end of the 17th century, the enormous representations of monarchs' heads predominate as a commemoration.
The great quality of these pieces meant that not only Great Britain took possession of these magnificent works of tribal art, in 1910 an important German company led by Leo Frobenius set out for Namibia to get hold of a good quantity of these pieces. So today is moreeasier to go to different European museums to see the bronzes of Benin than to the Museum of the bronzes themselves located in Namibia.