Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a remarkable series of some 900 rectangular brass plaques were cast in relief at the Court of Benin by a guild of brass casters for display across at the facade of the royal palace. A seventeenth century Dutch visitor to the court described the sprawling palace complex, with its many large courtyards and galleries: in the largest rooms, wooden pillars were covered from top to bottom with works depicting the array of officials at the court in great detail. In this example, the king mounting a horse is flanked by attendants rendered on a hierarchical scale that designated their relative rank.
Robert Goldwater, the Museum of Primitive Art's first director, recommended the acquisition of this Benin masterpiece, from New York gallerist John J. Klejman in 1957. At the time, Klejman claimed it was "the most important plaque which ever appeared on the market." It was the first of three exceptional masterpieces from the Kingdom of Benin acquired under Goldwater’s guidance that dramatically transformed the collection. The 16th century commemorative head of an Oba, and the Queen Mother ivory pendant mask from the same period were purchased the following year. Shortly after its acquisition, the plaque was prominently featured on the cover of the MPA’s 1958 exhibition Primitive Sculpture in Metal: Bronzes from Benin and Gold from the Americas.
Norman Burrows, Mellon Hall, Maple Bridge, Derbyshire, UK, until 1898(?); Augustus Pitt-Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, UK, until 1957; [K. John Hewett, London, 1957]; [Charles Ratton, Paris, 1957]; [John J. Klejman, New York, 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1965; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978
Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Lane-Fox. Antique Works of Art from Benin: by Augustus Pitt-Rivers, with a new introduction by Bernard Fagg. New York: Dover Publications, 1976, pl. 2, fig. 7-8.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 365.
The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 75, Front.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 183.
Tunis, Irwin. "A Note on Benin Plaque Termination Dates." Tribus vol. 32 (December 1983).
Ezra, Kate. Royal Art of Benin: The Perls Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, 40.
Girshick Ben-Amos, Paula. The Art of Benin. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.
Blier, Suzanne Preston. Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. New York: Abrams Books, 1998.
Artist: Martin Carlin (French, near Freiburg im Breisgau ca. 1730–1785 Paris) Date: ca. 1773Medium: Oak veneered with tulipwood, amaranth, holly, and ebonized holly; ten soft-paste porcelain plaques; gilt-bronze mounts; marble; velvet (not original)Accession: 58.75.44On view in:Gallery 529