Circular Plaque with Portuguese Figures



Circular Plaque with Portuguese Figures


casting, effigy, metalwork, repouse


19th Century or later


Nigeria, Benin


11 7/8 x 10 1/2 in. (30.2 x 26.7 cm)

Object Number



The kingdom of Benin, located in the modern state of Nigeria, is notable for its rich repertoire of ceremonial and ritual objects that support the institution of divine rulership. They are typically crafted from precious materials such as brass and ivory and feature imagery unique to the Benin institution of kingship. Wall plaques, either cast in bronze or hammered from sheets of brass, often illustrate scenes from court life or military conquests, showing the king as the largest centrally placed figure. Other plaques, such as this one, illustrate the relationship between the Benin kingdom and the Portuguese, with whom they began trading in the late 1400s. This ongoing relationship in part facilitated the rise to power of the Benin kingdom in the region. Here two jaunty Portuguese merchants are seen among objects of European manufacture imported into the kingdom, but since this plaque was created centuries after the Portuguese ceased to be Benin's primary trading partner, their representation serves a symbolic purpose. As cultural outsiders who traveled to Africa across the ocean, the Portuguese image was understood to represent the spiritual realm of Olokun, the god of the sea, the afterlife, and of wealth. The image of the Portuguese served as a power symbol for kingship
and the divine underpinnings of wealth.

Credit Line

Gift of Stan and Jamie Cohen in honor of Glenn Goldberg


MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, March 29, 2013 - December 1, 2014


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2012.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

On View



“Circular Plaque with Portuguese Figures,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed February 19, 2019,

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