German Museums to Receive Funding for Research into Benin Bronzes Ahead of Repatriation

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Benin Bronzes on display at the British Museum. Photo: Rtype909/Flickr.

May 12, 2021 at 2: 13pm

The German Lost Art Foundation is offering grants of up to €25,000 ($30,000) apiece to the country’s museums to be used for research into the provenance of the Benin bronzes currently in their possession, The Art Newspaper reports. Citing the brief time remaining before the objects, looted over a century ago by British soldiers from what was then called the Republic of Benin, are returned to Nigeria next year, as was recently promised by the German government, the foundation is characterizing the money as emergency funding. The grants are aimed at smaller institutions and are intended for research efforts lasting up to six months and typically regarding a single object or modest collection.

“The discussion about returning the so-called Benin bronzes to Nigeria doesn’t only affect big institutions like the Humboldt Forum,” the Lost Art Foundation noted, referring to the Berlin institution housing roughly five hundred of the artifacts. “Smaller institutions in Germany also possess cultural property from Benin that may be traceable back to confiscations and looting at the royal palace of Benin City in 1897.”

Some one thousand of the objects are scattered throughout the collections of about twenty-five German museums: all are slated for return. At a meeting convened last month by German culture minister Monika Grütters, the country’s officials and museum heads agreed that details regarding all Benin bronzes held by German institutions would be made available online by June 15, with comprehensive details regarding provenance published by year-end on the government-run website Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts.

The Lost Art Foundation has said that museums do not need to raise their own funds first in order to qualify for assistance.

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