Scholars have suggested that this figure was placed upon a commemorative altar dedicated to a king, or "oba," of Benin. The figure is depicted wearing a distinctive cross pendant. His wrap skirt is adorned with profile heads of Portuguese traders, a frontal African head, and other common Benin motifs such as river leaves, mudfish, and interlace patterns.
Three different identities have been proposed for this figure. The official may be a messenger from a ruler referred to as the "Ogane," who today is identified as the leader, or "oni," of Ife. The present Benin dynasty claims descent from the Yoruba kingdom of Ife. According to a sixteenth-century Portuguese text, each new "oba," or king, of Benin had to be confirmed by the "Ogane," whose messenger presented the "oba" with a brass hat, staff, and cross necklace. Another interpretation suggests that he may represent a priest of Osanobua, the Benin creator god, who also wears a cross. Finally, the figure may depict a member of "Ewua," a group of palace officials who wake the "oba" each morning and perform a ceremony recalling the origin of the Benin dynasty.
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Title:Male Figure: Court Official
Geography:Nigeria, Court of Benin
Dimensions:H. 24 3/4 in. × W. 7 1/8 in. × D. 7 in. (62.9 × 18.1 × 17.8 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, 1991
Court of Benin, taken from the Royal Palace in 1897 during the British military occupation of Benin; Col. Le-Poer-O'Shea, Royal Engineers Boundary Commission, 1897–1900; (Sotheby's, London, March 8, 1957, no. 197); [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, from 1957]; a private collector, until 1986; (Sotheby's, New York, Nov. 18, 1986, no. 96); Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, New York, 1986–1991
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection," January 16–September 13, 1992.
The Frick Art & Historical Center. "Treasures From an African Kingdom: The Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 24, 1993–August 29, 1993.
Kimbell Art Museum. "Treasures From an African Kingdom: The Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 30, 1993–January 2, 1994.
High Museum of Art. "Treasures From an African Kingdom: The Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 25, 1994–April 24, 1994.
Cincinnati Art Museum. "Treasures From an African Kingdom: The Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 21, 1994–August 7, 1994.
Denver Art Museum. "Treasures From an African Kingdom: The Royal Art of Benin from the Perls Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 6, 1994–November 28, 1994.
Blackmun, Barbara. "From Trader to Priest in Two Hundred Years: The Transformation of a Foreign Figure on Benin Ivories." Art Journal vol. 27, no. 2 pp. 131–132.
Sotheby & Co. Oriental and European Rugs and Carpets: Textiles and Tapestries; English and Continental Clocks; Fine French and English Furniture. London, March 8, 1957, no. 157.
Ben-Amos Paula. The Art of Benin. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1980, p. 40.
Eyo, Ekpo, and Frank Willett. Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. New York: Knopf, 1980, p. 133.
Dark, Philip J.C. An Illustrated Catalogue of Benin Art. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1982, Y8/61.
Sotheby's. Important Tribal Art. New York, November 18, 1986, no. 96.
Lehuard, Raoul. "Les Ventes." Arts d'Afrique Noire vol. 61 (1987), pp. 47–48.
Ezra, Kate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Recent Acquisitions (Fall 1991), p. 83.
Ezra, Kate. Royal Art of Benin: The Perls Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 66–67, no. 15.
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