To a certain extent, one can envisage the architecture of Benin's palace on the basis of descriptions provided by Dutchman Olfert Dapper (1635-1689); accordingly, the scene depicted here can be reasonably interpreted as the gateway to the Oba's palace. Dapper's descriptions, for example, mention a tower crowned with bronze-cast bird and snake. Such towers were used to mark the entrance to the palace or the passageways from one courtyard to the next. The roof is not, however, decorated with palm leaves as Dapper describes, but rather with wood shingles.
It is supported by pillars engraved with decorative faces, and the bird that tops it is an attribute typical for this motif. It is usually seen as an ibis, though sometimes as a thrush, and it has special meaning in Benin's culture as a soothsaying and prophesising bird.
The two armed palace guards on the steps wear aprons and tall coral collars, which designate them as high-ranking members of royal court society. The two other attendants are unclothed but for a small coral necklace and a handheld fan. Above the roof, a four-leafes motif dominates the background. This motif appears very often on bronze plaques from Benin and is associated with Olokun, god of the water.
Felix von LUSCHAN: Die Altertümer von Benin, Band 1, Berlin 1919, S. 253/ 254.
Barbara PLANKENSTEINER (Hg.): Benin. Könige und Rituale. Höfische Kunst aus Nigeria, Wien 2007, S. 278.