but also of technological prowess. Philip Dark
was the fi rst to suggest that the more technologically
complex high-relief plaques were produced
last.6 My discovery of common sizes, compositions,
and decorative motifs within fl ange-pattern
groups supports his theory but also makes
it possible to challenge Dark’s dating of the series
that spans more than a century. Guild production
suggests that the plaques were created over only
a thirty-fi ve- to forty-year period.7 In this theory,
the Curve Group was created fi rst and the same
artists’ guild later marked plaques with the Angle
Flange pattern. The Curve and Angle Groups
both include projecting elements and regular ornamentation
that were introduced into the repertory
of techniques in the brass-casting guild
toward the end of the Curve Group’s production.
I believe that the Double-Woven Group, in turn,
was produced by some of the same artists who
had created the Angle Group and that the superior
mastery of narrative expression in the Double
Woven Group marks a shift in the purpose of
the corpus, a subject that will be discussed below.
This view is based on the increasing technical
confi dence in the medium as well as an increase
in movement and narrative interest visible in the
Perpendicular projections are the simplest
method of creating high-relief details. Perpendicular
projections are defi ned here as elements
of the composition that are supported by part
of the main form, such as a projecting forearm
supported by an upper arm that is attached to
the plaque. The courtier drumming and his assistants
holding double gongs, illustrated above
as fi gure 8, give an example of a perpendicular
support. The Curve Group contains eight
plaques with this type of support (7.7 percent of
the group). In contrast, such supports are used
in 28 percent of the Angle Group plaques, suggesting
that this technical innovation was well
underway when the Angle Group was created.
Projections supported by struts show a similar
pattern, increasing from the Curve to the Double
Woven Groups. The Curve Group again
includes only six such plaques (5.8 percent),
where the artist has used struts to support a thin
projecting element such as a sword or spear.
Among Angle Group plaques, 18 percent use
struts to support a projecting element. The two
courtiers holding their eben swords aloft (fi g.
12) demonstrate the use of struts. A detail taken
from the side of the plaque makes the technique
clear (fi g. 15).
The frequency and use of the perpendicular
and strut supports across the corpus support
the early dating of the Curve Group, its possible
overlap with the Angle Group, and the subsequent
creation of the Double-Woven Group.
Only a minority of Curve Group plaques (13.5
percent) use one of these technical strategies as
compared to a third (34 percent) of the Angle
Group and the majority of the Double-Woven
Group (62 percent). The Curve and Angle
Groups generally include only one of these support
strategies for each plaque. However, by
the time of the Double-Woven Group, artists
frequently used both perpendicular and strut
supports on the same plaque. The changing
strategies for supporting projecting elements are
a strong indicator of increasing technical skill,
indicating that the more technically advanced
plaques should be dated later.
The Ineh n’Igun Eronmwon, or head of the
brass casters, was responsible for supervising
the completion of the oba’s commissions and
training new guild members.8 The title is passed
through patrilineal descent.9 Brass casting was
formerly accomplished within the palace itself,10
with the oba presiding as the ceremonial head
caster during the creation of objects for his father’s
memorial altar.11 Due to the fragility of
the wax forms, it is most likely that artists also
prepared them in the palace, where the works
were later cast. The centralization of brass casting
within the palace would have led to the exchange
of new techniques among all members of
the guild, as well as a high degree of organization
led by the Ineh n’Igun Eronmwon.
The collocation of brass casters in the court
explains the easy transmission of new technical
practices over a relatively short period of time,
but it does not explain the shift in fl ange patterns.
I propose that the patterns denote a shift
between works completed under successive Ineh
n’Igun Eronmwon. This proposal would also
explain the plaques that are “exceptions” to
fl ange-pattern-group style because they share
technical strategies and stylistic traits with the
following group: In the guild system, the same
FIG. 13 (right): Double-
Woven Pattern plaque:
junior court offi cial.
Benin, Nigeria. 16th century.
Copper alloy. H: 46.4 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Robert
Owen Lehman Collection, inv. L-G
Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine