Metropolitan Museum to Send Some Benin Bronzes Back to Nigeria

The items include two 16th century brass plaques and a 14th century brass head.

A plaque entitled ‘Junior Court Official,’ 16th-17th century, the Edo peoples. The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it will be returning two 16th century brass plaques, Warrior Chief and Junior Court Official, and one 14th century brass plaque, Ife Head, to Nigeria; the first two items belong to the category of Benin Bronzes, artifacts which were looted by the British army hundreds of years ago from the former Kingdom of Benin. The artifacts have since been scattered far and wide and have wound up in the collections of many different museums, some of which have recently committed to repatriating the Bronzes. Berlin’s Humboldt Forum is pursuing the return of its Benin Bronzes, while the Parisian Quai Branly museum’s plans to do the same have been mired in bureaucratic complications.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the 16th century plaques from the art dealer Klaus Perls in 1991, while the 14th century object was offered to the museum more recently by a different collector. The Perls collection that he donated to the museum consists of 153 objects in total, including musical instruments, masks and elaborate jewelry.

“The Met is pleased to have initiated the return of these works and is committed to transparency and the responsible collecting of cultural property,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art said in a statement. Before winding up in the Met’s collection, two of the plaques spent time in the collections of both the British Museum and the National Museum in Lagos. “Although they were never deaccessioned by the National Museum, the two plaques entered the international art market at an unknown date and under unclear circumstances and were eventually acquired by a New York collector,” the Met’s statement continued.

In total, the Met has approximately 160 items from Benin City in its collection, but the objects that the institution has elected to deaccession will eventually be delivered to Abba Isa Tijani, the director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Metropolitan Museum to Send Some Benin Bronzes Back to Nigeria