Ownership and Location of the Benin Bronzes

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Discuss reasons why the ownership & location of the Benin Bronzes have been controversial, and continue to be so. From at least the 14th century the Benin Bronzes graced the Altars and pillars in the King of Benin, the Oba’s palace, until 1897 when Britain launched a punitive attack on the independent empire of Benin, raising it to the ground. Within the ruins of what was the palace they found previously unseen art works including ‘bronze’ plaques and heads of unanticipated sophistication and beauty; these were looted and taken to London where they were sold off to museums and private collections throughout the world – and where they controversially remain to this day, with only a minority residing in Africa. Since then the ownership and location of the bronzes has been a contentious subject. This essay shall explore the arguments regarding this issue, paying particular attention to a primary source and its accompanying plate of four plaques (all embedded quotations are taken from this source, unless otherwise stated). It will also consider the function of The Bronzes, and how that may have changed over time. The artefacts are referred to as Bronze, although the entire collection includes objects made from brass, ivory and other materials. The source is an article from the British Journal of the Anthropological Institute co-written by Mr. Read and Mr. Dalton – researchers for the British Museum and, at that time, considered experts in their field. Published within a year after the attack and written for a public readership the attitudes therein can be understood to reflect the general mind-set towards Benin at the end of the 19th century. Initially, the authors refer to the Benin Bronzes as “curious objects” - in keeping with an anthropological point-of-view, but also suggesting they shared the general belief that Africa produced only ‘primitive’ or

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