No archaeological or ethnographic material has of recent years aroused so much excitement and interest in Europe, as the objects lately brought from Benin City, West Africa.
The bronze objects have attracted the most attention, but those in other materials also deserve notice.The art is so good, the objects represented are so varied, and the questions suggested are so many, that a veritable sensation has been caused.
The largest collection of the Benin bronzes is no doubt that at the British Museum; the next largest is probably at Berlin. Hundreds of specimens, including some choice and interesting pieces, have passed through the hands of Mr. W. D. Webster.* The material has also been actively bought by smaller museums, particularly in Germany.
Several papers have already been printed regarding these objects. The present article must be considered merely a review of three of the most important of these papers. Mr. Read and Dr. von Luschan consider their papers preliminary, and propose to publish complete studies later.
Read and Dalton present a summary of our knowledge of Benin City. It was the centre of power of the Benin tribe and was located some seventy-three miles from the mouth of the Formosa or Benin river. The tribe is much like the Dahomey people generally.
The city was discovered at the close of the fifteenth century. The Portuguese passed along the coast in 1470; Sequiera visited the region in 1472; Alonzo d’Aviero went inland, probably, in 1487. From that time various adventurers reached Benin City, and by 1550 general commerce had been opened up with it. Windham and Pintado’s description of Benin was printed in Hakluyt in 1553.
The first really detailed account of it, with illustrations, by a Dutch author, was given in DeBry about 1600. Van Nyendale visited it in 1602 and his description was printed later. During this century several English travelers have been to Benin. King in 1820, Fawckner in 1825. and Moffatt and Smith in 1838, all mention the art work. Sir Richard Burton was there in 1862, and left a good description.
In 1897 the city was destroyed (in large part) by the British Punitive Expedition under Admiral Rawson.
*W. D. Webster, Bicester, England. Within a few months past Mr. Webster has sold Benin bronzes in the following quantities to museums and private parties: Pitt Rivers Museum, £1.437; Vienna, £640; Berlin £465; Dresden, £735; Munich, £160; Dublin £72; Edinburgh £131; Adelaide £50; Christ Church (New Zealand) £68; Basle. £47; Copenhagen, £115; Cambridge, £50; private buyers £500 &c. We do not know that any of this interesting material has reached America.
The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal