Published to accompany the major international touring exhibition which comes to Chicago in the summer of 2008, this monumental volume features more than 500 stunning reproductions alongside important new scholarship on the prized sculptures and carvings of the Benin Kingdom of sixteenth- through nineteenth-century West Africa (pre-colonial Nigeria). It brings together for the first time masterpieces that have been scattered all over the world since the end of the nineteenth century, while simultaneously documenting the fall of the independent kingdom, its reconstitution in the twentieth century and its continued existence through today.
From elaborate bas-relief plaques to stately commemorative king's heads and towering elephant tusks embellished with detailed figurative scenes illustrating life at court and the heroic deeds of kings and warriors, the artworks gathered here glorifiy the king as the political and spiritual head of his people and honored his ancestors. The detailed workmanship and outstanding aesthetic quality of Benin's royal sculptures have been compared to the work of the celebrated Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. And their wealth of iconographic detail conveys the sumptuousness of the royal court and its historical importance as a regional powerhouse in the Benin (or Edo) era.