African Art Royal Arts of Benin 1500 – 1900 C.E.
Vocabulary: define and explain the significance in the royal art of the Kingdom of Benin
Oba, Queen Mother, 1897 Punitive Expedition, lost wax casting (bronze or copper alloy),
belt or hip mask, ikegobo
Osanobua, Olokun, “great head”
Questions: thoroughly address the following questions in paragraph form
1. page 412: Consider the relationship between art and leadership in western sub-Saharan Africa.
a. Name at least 5 reasons that African leaders commissioned works of art.
b. Provide two or more explanations as to why most of the objects that remain intact today
are works commissioned by royalty.
2. page 414: The Kingdom of Benin most likely borrowed copper casting and a style of idealized
naturalism from the Yoruba people.
a. Explain how Yoruba sculptures are idealized and naturalistic at the same time.
b. Can sculpture from Ancient Egypt be described as utilizing idealized naturalism? Explain.
3. page 417: The people of the Kingdom of Benin are known as the Bini or Edo peoples.
a. For what purpose(s) did the kings of Benin use art objects?
4. Compare and contrast the Altar of the Hand and Arm in figure 15-11 on page 417 to the Royal
Ancestral Altar in figure 32-8 on page 946. Discuss at least three similarities and two differences
between these altars. Consider objects, purpose, function, symbolism and meaning.
5. Explain the role of the artisan guilds in the production of art objects in the Kingdom of Benin.
Royal Arts of Benin PROJECT
The World Arts and Cultures class will embark on an exploration of the Royal Arts of the Kingdom of Benin (1500 – 1900). We will
employ the IB approach of looking, researching, exploring the cultural identity of the Bini and Edo people as revealed through their
art and other cultural phenomenon, and understanding how interactions with other cultures such as the Ife, Yoruba and
Portuguese transformed both the art and cultural identity of the Bini / Edo people. We will spend some time in class and in the
library organizing this project, but the bulk of your presentation will be prepared by you outside of class.
Each student will complete a research project about an art object or other cultural phenomenon produced within the Kingdom of
Benin during the time period 1500 – 1900.
Choose an art object or other cultural phenomenon from the Kingdom of Benin (1500 – 1900).
Post an image of your art object with your name on the project board in Ms. Frensley’s room to ensure that a
classmate does not duplicate your object.
Steps #1 – 7 below should be completed in your workbook as a rough draft of your presentation..
The project should include an MLA formatted bibliography of at least two print sources and three Internet sources.
Oral presentations of your art object will take place February 3 - 11. Plan to spend 5 to 7 minutes discussing your
object, what it reflects about the cultural identity of Benin and the cross-cultural influences evident in your object.
1. LOOK and OBSERVE: The first part of your project requires a detailed observation of your art object or other cultural
phenomenon. Consider the questions used in the art critique earlier in the year as well as your Elements of Art and
Principles of Art notes as tools to help you discuss the style of the object:
a. Is the image or object two or three dimensional? Describe the overall form or shapes: geometric,
abstract, realistic, non-objective, tall, short, relief sculpture or in-the-round, subtractive or
b. Describe the colors used: Cool (blue, green, violet), Warm (red, yellow, orange), Neutral (tans and
greys). Identify the dominant color scheme.
c. Describe the use of line.
d. What textures dominate the image or object? Explain.
e. Are there significant negative spaces or areas in the object? What makes them significant?
f. Is there movement? What elements and/or principles cause it?
g. How does the eye move throughout or around the composition?
h. Consider other principles of art: Balance, Proportion (Hierarchical Scale), Variety, Harmony,
Emphasis, Unity, Gradation, Rhythm.
i. How does the artist employ “light” or reflected light? What purpose does the light serve?
j. Where are the figures looking or pointing?
k. Where does the focus lie in this object? What causes you to look there? Is there a single focus?
Why or why not?
2. QUESTION: The second part of the project requires you to ask questions about the art object or other cultural
phenomenon. Your art object will inspire a myriad of questions, all of which warrant exploration. Consider questions
centered around what the object means, how it was made and why it was made. You may use the contextual
questions located in the art critique guidelines as well, but do not limit yourself to these questions. Your art object is
unique and requires its own, unique questions. Examples of questions include: How was this work made? What
materials and processes were used? Why was it made? How was it used? Why are there fish included in the sculpture?
What do they mean? Your list of questions and any relevant discussion will follow your formal observation of the object.
3. RESEARCH: Conduct the necessary research to answer each of the questions asked above. Use the
answers to complete the section below.
4. CULTURAL IDENTITY: Once you have looked carefully at your object and explored your initial questions, it
is time to consider what is revealed through these answers about the cultural identity of the Kingdom of
Benin. What does the art object tell us about the identity of the culture that produced it? Use
the art object and your research to craft an explanation of the cultural understandings and identity of
Benin reflected through the object. (Note: This is a critical part of your project and it will likely require
you to research additional questions that arise during the writing process. Continue to observe your
object as you write to ensure that your descriptions, explanations, interpretations and analyses are
5. INTERACTIONS between CULTURES: The Kingdom of Benin was influenced by a number of cultures,
including neighboring Ife (Yoruba) and Igbo, as well as Portuguese traders from Europe. What evidence of
these relationships is present in your art object? In regards to your art object, what is the significance of
these cross-cultural relationships to the cultural identity of the Kingdom of Benin?
7. Cite all sources used using MLA or ASA format.