The one with the conquered crown in hand

“Veni vidi vici”

…I came, I saw, I conquered.

.What happened to the great Benin kingdom, and all it’s art?

.

At about 2 pm on February 18, 1897, Benin City, capital of the independent Benin Kingdom, fell to Troops commanded by British officers. On the 19th and 20th, houses of major Chiefs were burnt after being looted. On the 21st, the entire city was consumed in fire started by British soldiers.

Well over 6000 pieces of priceless artwork were looted by British troops and administrators and partially used to offset the costs of the military campaign.

Homes, religious buildings and palaces were deliberately torched.The city’s walls were once the largest earthworks created in the pre-mechanized era and were estimated to be four times longer in total than the Great Wall of China. Little evidence of these structures still exist after destruction at the hands of the British.

About 40% of the art was accessioned into the British Museum, London, some works were given to individual members of the British Military as spoils of war, and the remainder was sold by the British Admiralty to pay for the expedition as early as May 1897 at auctions in London. Most of the Benin bronzes sold at auction were purchased by museums, mainly in Germany. The dispersal of the Benin art to museums around the world catalysed the beginnings of a long and slow European reassessment of the value of West African art. The Benin art was copied and the style integrated into the art of many European artists and thus had a strong influence on the early formation of modernism in Europe.

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