The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

African Art

What is the art of Benin?

Benin, also known as the Edo Empire, was an important African state that lasted from 1440 to 1897. The heart of the empire, Benin City, was located about 150 miles away from Ile Ife in Nigeria. Similar to Ile Ife, Benin had a long tradition of memorial sculpture and shrines were built in honor of deceased obas, or kings. Popular materials for sculpture included ivory and bronze, and it is partly because of the use of these durable materials that more art from Benin has survived than from other African cultures from this time period. The power of the Edo Empire peaked in the sixteenth century and succumbed to the British Empire towards the end of the nineteenth century. Many of Benin’s art treasures are now part of the British Museum and other Western institutions.


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