Germany Reveals Digital Database of Its Benin Bronzes
Following up on its promise earlier this year to return its trove of Benin bronzes to Nigeria, and to do so transparently, Germany has lifted the veil on a comprehensive digital database offering images and provenances of the looted artworks in its possession, Artnews reports. The website, German Contact Points for Collections from Colonial Contexts, offers images and provenances for the objects and will continue to be updated as the repatriation process moves ahead.
The step is the latest taken by Germany, which has led its counterparts in the effort to return its share of the more than 90,000 brass, bronze, and ivory objects stolen by British soldiers in 1897 from the Republic of Benin (now Nigeria) and scattered across the Continent and throughout the world. Some five hundred of the purloined items are estimated to be held in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum at the Humboldt Forum, with still others in the possession of more than twenty other museums across the country.
The Humboldt Forum was the first German institution to announce its plan to return the objects, back in March. After the government stepped up to the plate with its repatriation promise in April, the German Lost Art Foundation last month announced that it was 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. Aimed at smaller institutions that might otherwise lack the resources, the grants were intended for research efforts lasting up to six months and typically regarding a single object or modest collection.
Germany’s determined forward movement in regard to returning the stolen objects has been noted beyond its country’s borders. In March, Scotland’s University of Aberdeen said it would return its lone Benin bronze, a bronze sculpture of the king of Benin. The National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, in April followed suit, announcing plans to repatriate twenty-one of the objects, and in June New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would return two Benin bronzes held in its collection to Nigeria. Closely watched now is the British Museum in London, which counts nine hundred of the pilfered pieces among its collection.