Galerie Peter Herrmann

Ancient Art from Africa - Benin & Ife

Thermoluminescence - Expertise

Relief Plaque with Animal Sacrifice
Benin, Nigeria
17th century
45 x 36 cm

Relief Plaque with Animal Sacrifice:

Ritual activities occurred in a yearly cycle at the palace, the heart of Benin; some were conducted in private for the king, others publicly for the general population. Sacrifices in which the king had a large number of animals killed were integral elements of almost all public rituals in Benin. The public slaying of cattle depicted on this relief was considered the highest form of local immolation.

A large master of ceremonies draped with bells stands in the middle of this plaque and is in the process of decapitating a cow with his sickle-like knife. Five aides pull on the head and legs of the probably already dead animal, while two very small figures stand in the background, both also armed. The striking size differential amongst the figures could be an indication of their respective prominence. Accordingly, the large figure in the middle would quite clearly be the plaque's central and most important character, while the two very small figures at the top would be the lowest-ranked. Their relatively small size could, however, instead be interpreted as an attempt at perspective - already in the 17th century.

This relief is a masterpiece in more than just the technical sense. A cast-bronze plaque like this one requires a quite complicated casting process, which indicates that at the time of its creation, Benin must already have had a long tradition of bronze casting. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for the slaughtered, sacrificial animal to hover in front of the plaque as it does, creating a wonderful, three-dimensional effect.

Paula Girshick BEN-AMOS: The art of Benin, London 1980, S. 70.
W./ B. FORMAN, Philip DARK: Die Kunst von Benin, Prag 1960, S. 44.

Similar objects:  


British Museum, London

Paula Girshick BEN-AMOS: The art of Benin, London 1980, S. 71.


Jacques KERCHACHE, Jean-Louis PAUDRAT, Lucien STEPHAN: Die Kunst des Schwarzen Afrika, Freiburg 1989, S. 171.


W./ B. FORMAN, Philip DARK: Die Kunst von Benin, Prag 1960, Abb. 43.

General Pitt Rivers's Museum at Farnham, Dorset

Augustus Henry PITT-RIVERS: Antique Works of Art from Benin, London 1900/ New York 1976, S. 95.