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African Art


18th–19th century

Brass with repoussé

1 × 1/16 × 24 in. (2.54 × 0.203 × 61 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
The imagery on this brass disk relates to royal power in the Benin Kingdom. The outer rim decoration features leopards, heads of Portuguese figures, and three ceremonial swords, which in this combination are an emblem for the Oba, or King: the leopard, as ruler of the forest, is a symbol for the king; the heads refer to the sea trade and to Olokun, god of the sea, fertility, and prosperity and the Oba’s counterpart as ruler of the water underworld; and the swords refer to his power to take life. The disk was collected by Lieutenant Norman Burrows, who was a member of the British army that captured Benin City in 1897. Its original use remains enigmatic, as no comparable example is known.
Made in Guinea Coast, Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
Not on view
Edo, Benin Kingdom
16th century

Lt. Norman Burrows, Mellor Hall, Marple Bridge, Derbyshire, of the North Lancashire Regiment, was attached to the Niger Coast Protectorate Force from February 1895, in 1897 took part in the Benin Expedition [in paint on back of piece "Benin. BT.N.Burrows.Apr.1898], to May 2, 1998; Lt.-Gen. Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnam, Dorset, England, from May 2, 1998; Josef Mueller, Solothurn, Switzerland, to June 13, 1978; Christies London, June 13, 1978; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1978–2004;Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Lieutenant-General Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, Antique Works of Art from Benin (Oxford, England: privately printed, 1900), 36-37, no. 102, ill.

Felix von Luschan, Die Alterumer von Benin (Berlin, Germany: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1919), 438-439, fig. 695.

Christie’s London, London, Christie’s: African Art from the Collection of the late Josef Mueller of Solothurn, Switzerland, sale cat. (June 13, 1978), fig. 264.

Wilson P. Foss, Nigerian Splendor: A Checklist of the Exhibition, Dartmouth College Museum and Galleries, Jaffe Friede, Strauss and Barrows Galleries, Hopkins Center, Hanover, N.H., 12 April to 18 May 1980, exh. cat. (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College, 1980), no. 54.

Flora S. Kaplan, Images of Power: Art of the Royal Court of Benin, exh. cat. (New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 1981), 67, fig. 58.

Frederick John Lamp, “Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004): 26, ill.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 117, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.