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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Benin Bronze Rabbit Container
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Benin Bronze Rabbit Container - SF.103 (LSO)
Origin: Benin
Circa: 20th th Century AD
Dimensions: 3.50" (8.9cm) high x 8.75" (22.2cm) wide
Collection: African Art
Style: Naturalistic
Medium: Bronze

Location: Great Britain
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This attractive rabbit-shaped container was made by the artisans of the Benin Empire. The striking naturalism of the rendering attests not only to their technical and aesthetic skill, but also to their flexibility towards foreign influence. The piece is an accurate depiction of a prone rabbit, its ears wrapped around is flanks, and divided into two halves horizontally along the midline to create an ornate receptacle. Items such as this were not usually made by the Bini (the technical term for the Benin populace), and it reflects European tastes in the closing days of the empire.

Until the late 19th century, the Benin centres were a ruling power in Nigeria, dominating trade routes and amassing enormous wealth as the military and economic leaders of their ancient empire. This changed with the appearance of British imperial forces, which coveted the wealth of the royal palaces and found a series of excuses to mount a punitive expedition against the Oba’s forces in 1897. It was only at this point, the moment of its’ destruction, that the true achievements of the Benin polities became apparent to western scholars.

Benin royal palaces comprised a sprawling series of compounds containing accommodation, workshops and public buildings. As it grew, the buildings pertaining to previous Obas were either partially refurbished or left in favour of newer constructions; this led to a long history of royal rule written in sculptural works that rank among the finest that African cultures have ever produced; until European advances in the 19th century, they were the finest bronzes that had ever been made.

Endearing pieces such as this were emblematic of the decline and eventual fall of the empire, but is at the same time symbolic of the survival of Benin’s proudest sculptural traditions. This is an endearing piece of African art.

Ezra, K. 1992. Royal Art of Benin: the Perls Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, US.

Bacquart, J. 1998. The Tribal Arts of Africa. Thames and Hudson, UK.

Phillips, T. (ed). 1999. Africa: The Art of a Continent. Prestel. - (SF.103 (LSO))


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