Benin Bronze works
By Enolouis Enobakhare
“The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going”, Bronze is a copper — tin alloy with or without addition to lesser amount of other elements, one of which may be zinc. Bronze could also be a copper base alloy containing one of several metals other than tin or zinc as major alloying elements
The stage of civilisation between the new stone age and the iron age- 2500BC. To 1000BC can he described as the Bronze age. Egypt and Mesopotarmia were leaders in the new art of civilisation. The cire perdue; French word meaning (cost wax) of bronze casting adopted by the Egyptians and Nubians (situated near the upper Nile) was superior in the technical mastery to the etruscans and greeks process, common in Europe at the time.
The cire involved the following; A mould of special clay formed the base. Over this a likeness of what is beautifully modelled. Outside of this is a covering of “potters clay” the whole being wrapped in ordinary ‘mud of mortar.
The mould after being sufficiently sun-dried is transferred to the smelting pot. Completely submerged in the molten metal, it takes the place of the wax and the object is accomplished.
Benin is a town famous for the great artistic merit of the bronze casting and ivory and wood carving made there. John Barbot (1732) wrote “Oedo, the metropolis of Benin was prodigious, large taking up about six leagues of ground in compass, there are thirty great streets most of them prodigious both in length and breadth, being twenty fathom wide and almost two English miles long”.
Benin bronze casting is similar to that of Nubia and Egypt. The cire perdue process (lost wax) is still been practiced in Benin till the present day. Benin bronze works are mostly homogeneous and of exotic origin.
Benin works of art are better known than the art works of any other Nigeria community probably because Benin is the foremost Nigeria City to come in contact with the outside world. In 1472 Ru de sequeira, a Portuguese visited the City, so when her art works began to be discovered, news about them circulated easily.
A study of Benin works of art during the metal age would show that her metal work was mainly concerned with bronze and brass casting. Benin also engaged in Ivory mask which the British discovered in the bed chambers of Oba Ovonramwen in 1897.
Benin early contact with the Europeans helped her in so many ways, for instance, she enjoyed a steady and plentiful supply of raw materials from Europe which enabled her to increase the quantity and improve the quality of her art works
African art has influenced the whole western art since the turn of the century. Jazz, blues and rock ‘n roll all have well known African influences. So far, 4000 pieces of Renin art works have been collected and many of them are in various museums in Europe and America. A substantial number are in British museums. Most of these have not been archeologically tested except 49 manillas and bracelets of 13th century origin excavated from Ogba Road, Benin City. One of the finest Benin works remaining in Nigeria is a bronze mask worn as a pendant by the Atta of Idah.
West Africa bronze working appeared to be at their high points during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The styles of the west African bronze work is apparently indigenous, although there are numerous similarities to European methods of casting. Bronze casting continues to be unchallenged in the fine arts as a medium especially for works in free standing sculpture. The durability and lightness of Bronze make it preferable to stone or wood in many types of work. The craftsmanship and artistic ability await the stimulus of suitable patronage.
“No nation can be progressive without developing her art” said Mr. Arthur Creech Jones during the laying of the foundation of Ibadan University college. Nigeria at present is not developing her art as should be done, and hence hampering her own progress. Nigeria art is in a very poor and unhealthy State, and there seems little hope for artists to earn their living in this country today. Inspite of many difficulties, there are still a few young people in Nigeria today who devote their time to the arts.
There are public, buildings waiting to be decorated all over. Surely, rich men and women enough to contribute to the livelihood of many craftsmen. Little by little, the young Nigeria artists assimilating new techniques from Europe, Asia and America, will learn how to ally these with the best of our own traditional art A synthesis of the old and new, creating a true art of the present. When we succeed the worth will surely be respected and recognised by all.