This brass openwork bracelet is decorated with repeating figures and was originally one of a pair of wrist cuffs. A male figure representing a Portuguese navigator alternates with the figure of a noblemen on horseback, each one appearing twice. The equestrian may represent the divine king, who alone may own horses. The man is one of many portrayed in Edo court arts after Portuguese traders began traveling to Benin City in the late fifteenth century. Edo peoples drew parallels between the Portuguese sailors and the god Olokun, who crosses water and brings wealth to the living. The openwork lattice pattern, elaborate surfaces, and dynamic use of space attest to the artistry of the royal brass-casting guilds. Similar bracelets, carved in ivory, are reserved for the king.
Chiefs and kings of the kingdom of Benin wore pairs of brass bracelets at palace ceremonies. This cast example depicts four men—two on horseback, two standing. While these figures do not have the slender noses typical of Benin depictions of Europeans, they can be identified as Portuguese by their short beards, helmets, and clothing. Linked to the god Olokun, who crosses water and brings wealth to the living, images of Portuguese traders symbolized economic and political power. The royal brass-casting guilds dramatically increased their production after the fifteenth century as a result of the influx of brass manilas—bracelet-shaped metal currency pieces—imported by the Portuguese.
Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the collections, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013).
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: handbook of the collections, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery:
Princeton University Art Museum (July 14–September 23, 2012)