Benin Bronzes in Germany

 

The Minister of State for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, the directors of the German museums belonging to the Benin Dialogue Group, the responsible Cultural Affairs Ministers of the Länder, and the Foreign Office met digitally on April 29, 2021 and agreed on a declaration on the handling of the Benin-Bronzes in German museums and institutions. The participants were in agreement that addressing Germany’s colonial past is an important issue for the whole of society and a core task for cultural policy. Fundamental political agreements have been reached and major steps taken in Germany over the past few years. Furthermore, German museums and institutions have implemented numerous measures to address the history and origin of their holdings. These include returning human remains and cultural objects from colonial contexts to their countries and societies of origin.

In addition, the participants agreed to, 1. create extensive transparency with regard to the Benin Bronzes in their collections and exhibitions; 2. hold further coordinated talks on returns and future cooperation with the Nigerian side at an early date; in this context, one aim will be to reach an understanding with the Nigerian partners on how Benin Bronzes can continue to be shown in Germany; 3. determine concrete actions and a timetable for the upcoming talks. The Statement on the handling of the Benin Bronzes in German museums and institutions can be found here.

Database of the Benin-Bronzes in Germany

In order to ensure the greatest possible transparency regarding the handling of the Benin Bronzes, it was agreed that the Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts in Germany, funded jointly by the Federation and the Länder, will publish a list of all Benin Bronzes held in the museums on its website (www.cp3c.org) by 15 June 2021 – in addition to the information on museums’ own websites. In addition, the museums will provide comprehensive documentation of the provenance of these objects and make it publicly accessible on the website of the Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts by the end of 2021. Where Benin Bronzes are shown in exhibitions, comprehensive information will be provided on their acquisition context.

The database of the Benin-Bronzes in Germany developed by the German Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts can be accessed here.

The database includes informational on the objects that are commonly categorized as "Benin-Bronzes" and which are held in German museums. This categorization refers to court art and historical objects of the Kingdom of Benin (today part of Nigeria) that were plundered by British troops in 1897.

The database will be updated regularly and information from other institutions with relevant collections of Benin-Bronzes in Germany will be included. In addition, data quality will be improved continuously (image quality, dealing with inconsistencies, translation of German terms into English). At present (15 June 2021), the database presents information of the following German museums that are part of the Benin Dialogue Group:

 

The Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) evolved from the collections of the royal cabinets of art and has grown since its founding in 1873 to become one of the largest and most significant of its kind. Its collections include around 500,000 ethnographic, archaeological and cultural-historical objects from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. These are supplemented by around 500,000 media holdings (ethnographic photographs, films, and sound recordings) and around 200,000 pages of written documents. 

The Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is critically facing up to the legacy and the consequences of colonialism as well as the role and perspective of Europe. Reflecting on its own viewpoint, building partnerships with the societies of origin in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas should serve to expose one-sided Eurocentric viewpoints without eliding European connections. 

From the late summer of 2021, the Humboldt Forum will display permanent exhibitions by various stakeholders, including a presentation of the Ethnological Museum’s collection.

503 historical objects made in the Kingdom of Benin are part of the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum today and two bronzes are in the collections of the Museum Berggruen. A list offers an overview of these objects, as well as how and when they came into the Berlin collections.

The Ethnographic Collection of the University of Göttingen is one of the most important teaching and research collections in the German-speaking world. Its beginnings date back to the time of the Enlightenment. 

The history of the Ethnographic Collection began 1773 with the establishment of the Academic Museum at Göttingen University. Thanks to the initiative of the professor of medicine Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, cultural artefacts from the South Seas ("Cook/Forster Collection") and the Arctic polar region ("Baron von Asch Collection") were brought to Göttingen in the second half of the 18th century. After Blumenbach's death in 1840, the collection was initially cared for by scholars from other disciplines. In 1928, anthropological teaching began in Göttingen with the available objects.

At present, the collection comprises of about 18,000 objects from all continents. Furthermore, graphics and paintings, archival materials, photographs as well as hands-on objects of museum education are part of its inventory. As part of digitization measures, the collection has been increasingly viewable in the online collection portal of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. Holdings from colonial contexts are also included in the database of the Lower Saxony provenance research project PAESE. The analog inventory catalogs are available for download as .pdf files.

The objects preserved here are explored in research projects under a variety of questions. They are used in seminars for the education of students. In addition, the collection is open to the public in the form of permanent and special exhibitions (currently: closed due to building refurbishment).

The Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) of the Museum Natur und Mensch of the Städtische Museen Freiburg (Municipal Museums of Freiburg) includes around 20.000 objects from Asia, Oceania, the Americas, Ancient Egypt and Africa, which have been collected since the museum was founded in 1895. The collection also includes a historical photo archive. The Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) is one of the largest municipal ethnological collections in Germany. Preservation, educational work and research of their holdings as well as their accessibility, for example through digital transparency, are their central goals.

As in many European museums, a large part of the ethnological holdings became part of the Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) at the turn of the century. In special exhibitions and research and cooperation projects, the Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) examine intensively with the provenance of the objects, especially their colonial contexts. Another key objective is to make the collections globally transparent and accessible through digitization such as the presentation of the Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) in the digital collection of the Städtische Museen Freiburg (Municipal Museums of Freiburg). Digitization also forms the basis for further scientific research of the collections. 

The Ethnologische Sammlung (Ethnological Collection) of the Museum Natur und Mensch currently keeps ten objects from the Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria. 

Provenance

These objects have entered by purchase between the years 1899 and 1907 in the then Museum für Natur- und Völkerkunde der Stadt Freiburg. Another bronze plate of the Kingdom of Benin, bought in 1901, was sold to a collector from Karlsruhe in March 1952.

Dr Erika Sulzmann started the department’s ethnographic collections in 1950. From 1951 to 1954, she spent more than two years in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo), carrying out fieldwork among the Ekonda and Bolia in the equatorial rainforest together with Ernst Wilhelm Müller, who was a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the time. They collected more than 500 objects, which formed the original core of the department’s holdings. Erika Sulzmann constantly expanded the collections during subsequent research trips to the Congo between 1956 and 1980.

Today, the Ethnographic Collection preserves approximately 3,000 objects, primarily from Central and West Africa, as well as Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of Oceania. This diverse collection is comprised of a wide range of objects, including weapons, basket, musical instruments, textiles and religious objects. It is the only collection of its kind in Rhineland-Palatinate and one of the largest university collections at Mainz University. Since 1992, Dr Anna-Maria Brandstetter has been the collection’s curator. The collections’ items are used in teaching. Students learn how to handle ethnographic objects according to ethical considerations, how to conserve them, and how to design small exhibitions around them.

About 1,680 objects were translocated to Europe in a colonial context from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, in many cases by using pressure, extortion, and violence. They are therefore historical objects that refer to past life worlds and at the same time tell of their appropriation in Europe in the context of the colonial conquest of Africa or Oceania.

In the digital collection "Gutenberg Objects" of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz about 300 objects from colonial contexts (mainly from Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Tanzania) in the Ethnographic Collection will be available from October 2021.

With around 160,000 everyday objects, works of art and sacred objects from Africa, the Islamic Orient and Siberia, North and Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania as well as East, Southeast and South Asia, the Linden Museum Stuttgart, which opened in 1911, houses one of the most important ethnological collections in Europe. 

Through exhibitions and a multi-faceted events and communication program, the Linden Museum enables encounters with other living environments and promotes understanding between different worldviews. The museum sees itself as the guardian and mediator of cultural heritage; it explains, differentiates and connects.

The museum is currently confronting former practices of ethnographic collecting, its own colonial history, the provenance of its collections as well as the colonial structures and their consequences in the present. It is furthermore reflecting on the contemporary role of ethnological museums. Projects are created in participatory processes together with representatives and stakeholders from the societies of origin, citizens of Stuttgart as well as international experts.

As part of a realignment, the Linden Museum is currently developing and testing new forms of museum knowledge production, communication and presentation within the framework of the “LindenLAB Project”, funded as part of the initiative for ethnological collections of the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes). In addition, the museum participates actively in international networks.

Provenance

The Linden Museum's collection comprises 75 objects that are associated with the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now the State of Edo, Nigeria.

These include mainly 64 "bronzes" (i.e. sculptures, ceremonial objects and relief plates made of copper alloys), 7 ivory objects (a ceremonial waist pendant commemorating Queen Mother Idia, 5 elephant tusks - 4 of which are carved -, and 1 carved bracelet) as well as 2 manillas and 2 copper bars originally made in Hungary and traded in the region of what is now Nigeria.

The largest group of 52 objects, 49 of which still exist today, came to the Linden-Museum in 1899 through the mediation of Felix von Luschan (Royal Museum for Ethnology in Berlin). The Hamburg company “H. Bey & Co” had offered him numerous objects that had arrived directly from Africa. He was only able to acquire a part of them for Berlin and brokered the remaining ones to other museums. Carl Eduard Knorr, an entrepreneur in Heilbronn, financed the purchase for the Linden-Museum.

The hip pendant of Queen Mother (Iyoba) Idia entered the private collection of Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1898 through the ethnographica dealer William Downing Webster. In the 1930s it was passed on to the dealers John and Gertrude Hunt, who in turn sold it to the Linden-Museum in 1964. Further objects came into the collection of the Linden-Museum until 2009 through Hans Meyer (1899), Max Westendarp (1903), Hans Ziemann (1904), Albert Hoffa (1904), Albert Spring (1911), Gustav Rundeff (1922), Hermann Seeger (1940), Arthur Speyer (1956) and other dealers and collectors.

In 1871, the "Culturgeschichtliche Museum" (Cultural History Museum) was founded, building on the ethnographic collection of the Johanneum, a Hamburg grammar school. In 1879, it was renamed the Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum for Ethnology). In 1904, its first full-time director was appointed, Georg Thilenius (1868–1937), and in 1912 it obtained a dedicated building. In 2017, the major step of renaming it the “Museum am Rothenbaum: Kulturen und Künste der Welt“, MARKK (Museum am Rothenbaum: World Cultures and Arts) signified a long-awaited turning point and act of decolonising the museum. 

The museum collection consists of a nominal quantity of around 260,000 numbered objects from all parts of the world, including Europe and Germany. The precise number is currently being determined in a full inventory process; approximately a third is anticipated to been lost due to the Second World War. The precise number of objects originating from colonial contexts is unknown, but these are estimated to account for at least a third of the collection.

Numerous people from societies of origin as well as researchers and political activists desire a complete view of ethnographic museums’ holdings. To that end, in 2020 the MARKK published core sections of its collection database as lists on the museum website. 

The lists are grouped by region. They contain raw data and notes from various periods of the museum’s history. Many terms in the lists are now considered inappropriate, outdated or offensively racist, yet remain included in the lists for historical reasons. From the same reason, the lists also contain objects that are no longer entirely located in the museum today due to the effects of war, object exchanges, restitution or the deterioration of organic materials.

The museum’s database is continually revised and updated on the basis of research. Preparations for an online collection are currently under way.

 

Provenance (December 2021)

Today, the MARKK’s Benin collection includes 179 pieces, the majority of which were consigned around the turn of the century by approximately 40 individuals. Many of these persons were associated with world trade emanating from Hamburg at the time. The following is a summary of what we have learned so far in the form of short biographies of each person.

Karl Behm (* 18 March 1864 Hoym, † 13 June 1919 Munich)

was a rear admiral in the Imperial German Navy and went to sea from 1882 before becoming director of the German Naval Observatory and settling in Hamburg in 1911. Behm sold the museum three objects from the Kingdom of Benin in 1903.

Heinrich Bey (* about 1846 Hamburg?, † 14 April 1906 Hamburg)

was a Hamburg merchant and owner of the export and import company “H. Bey & Co.”, as well as the subsidiary “Bey & Zimmer”, with branches in West Africa, from where so-called ‘colonial goods’ and commodities (e.g. palm hearts) were transported to Hamburg. The company, which at the time had its headquarters in Große Bäckerstraße (Hamburg’s historic district), played a central role in importing works of art from the Kingdom of Benin to Europe. After Bey’s death, his widow consigned two more pieces from her late husband’s estate in 1928. Heinrich Bey had only sold one object from the Kingdom of Benin to the museum in 1903.

J. F. Blech (* unknown, † unknown)

appears in the Hamburg address book of 1898 as “Arbtr.” (= worker) and most likely did not undertake any journey(s) to Africa himself. His full name is not known. Most likely, Blech was a dockworker and in this way probably came into possession of ethnographic objects including two works of art from the Kingdom of Benin, which he sold to the museum in 1898.

Johann Martin Brettschneider (* 1843 Hamburg?, † 1908 Hamburg?)

was a Hamburg merchant and the brother-in-law of Gottlieb Leonard Gaiser (1817-1892), who attempted to establish a German colony in the south of present-day Nigeria in the mid-1880s. Brettschneider took over Gaiser’s business after his death, including an oil mill for the production of palm oil in Harburg, as well as the branches in West Africa.

M. Dreyer (* unknown, † unknown)

sold the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) three objects from Nigeria in 1905, one of which was an arm ring from Benin. Further details about this collector are not known, including his full name.

Albert Engelhardt (* unknown, † unknown)

was presumably a merchant and offered exactly one object from the Benin Kingdom and nothing else for sale to the Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) in 1904. Beyond that, this person does not appear in the documentation.

Friedrich Erdmann (* 23 October 1866 Altona (today Hamburg), † probably 1907 in South Africa)

was a merchant from Hamburg and worked as a managing director for the trading company Bey & Zimmer in Lagos, Warri and Sapele in southern Nigeria. Erdmann is known to have visited Benin City after it being conquered by British troops, taking the artefacts that remained there to sell them with the permission of the British military, as well as photographing the scene. Erdmann was one of the key figures in Bey’s Benin business, selling a total of 13 objects from the Kingdom of Benin to the museum in 1898. His widow, Alma, corresponded with Felix von Luschan (1854-1924) in Berlin, and later sold objects from her husband’s collection. His son Kurt (1901-1964) was an art historian; he also sold pieces from his father’s estate.

John Paul Frisch (*23 July 1875 Hamburg, † 25 July 1934 Hamburg)

was a Hamburg merchant residing in the Sternschanze district. Frisch worked as an agent for the company Bey & Zimmer in West Africa. He has been recorded on several passenger documents travelling to southern Nigeria with Woermann ships. In 1903, Frisch sold the museum four objects from the Kingdom of Benin.

Gottlieb Leonard Gaiser (* 30 July 1817 Schlierbach, † 28 December 1892 Hamburg)

was a merchant and owner of the trading company named after him, G. L. Gaiser, with his own oil mill in Hamburg-Harburg and branches in the south of Nigeria. In 1885, Gaiser attempted to found a German colony in the so-called Mahinland (east of Lagos). However, the plan failed due to lack of support from Imperial Chancellor Otto v. Bismarck (1815-1898). After Gaiser’s death, his brother-in-law Johann Martin Brettschneider (1843-1918) continued the business.

Franz Gassmann (* unknown, † unknown)

like many other consignors of works of art from the Kingdom of Benin, was probably active as a merchant in West Africa at the end of the 19th century. He sold only one object to the museum in 1911. Further details about this person could not be ascertained.

Carl Goltermann (* unknown, † unknown)

was presumably active as a shipbroker in Hamburg before the turn of the century and until the 1920s. In 1906, he sold the museum a single object from the Kingdom of Benin.

Adolf Heemke (*8 October 1874 Geestemünde/Bremerhaven, † unknown)

was an overseas merchant and active as an agent for the trading house Bey & Zimmer in Nigeria. Today, works of art from Benin brought by him to Europe are still in collections in Stuttgart and Freiburg. In 1904, he sold ten Benin objects to the MARKK.

Ms. Hiltawski (* unknown, † unknown)

sold two objects from the Kingdom of Benin to the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) in 1912. How she had previously come into possession of these pieces has not yet been determined.

W. Hinzpeter (* unknown, † unknown)

was a merchant and worked as an agent for the firm Bey & Zimmer in West Africa. Together with a certain Mr. Stumpf, he assembled a collection of around fifty “Benin antiquities”, of which he donated three objects to the museum in 1904. His full name is not known.

Carl Hoppe (* unknown, † unknown)

came from Altona and worked in Hamburg as an ethnographic objects and antiquities dealer. From 1901 onwards, he sold several hundred ethnographic objects from all over the world to the Museum für Völkerkunde (now MARKK), although he sold only one object from the Kingdom of Benin to the MARKK 1902. The objects were presumably acquired primarily through intermediaries in the port of Hamburg.

Oskar Kaiser (*1878 Hamburg?, † unknown)

was a merchant and locally active in Nigeria as a commercial agent in the export/ import business, presumably with colonial goods and commodities. Kaiser traded in Lagos as “Oscar Kaiser & Co.” in 1915 and presumably travelled regularly between Hamburg and West Africa. In the correspondence, he refers to the Hamburg-based (business partner?) Paul Luck and writes of having brought items from Benin City himself. In 1904, he sold the MARKK six objects from the Kingdom of Benin.

[Mr.] Karl from Altona (* unknown, † unknown)

sold the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) a carved wooden box from the Kingdom of Benin in 1907. It has not yet been possible to determine who this person was and how he came into possession of this object.

Theodor Knywel (* unknown, † unknown)

ran a pet shop in Gärtnerstraße in the Hoheluft-West district of Hamburg. Similar to other well-known ethnographic object dealers, Knywel probably acquired the three pieces from the Kingdom of Benin that he sold to the Museum für Völkerkunde (now MARKK) in 1911 through intermediaries in the port of Hamburg.

Julius August Konietzko (* 6 August 1886 Insterburg, † 27 April 1952 ibid.)

was an tribal art dealer who, in addition to making acquisitions via the port of Hamburg, also undertook collecting trips himself. He is associated with the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) as a consignor of thousands of ethnographic art and everyday objects from various regions of the world. After Konietzko’s death, his wife Lore Kegel (1901-1980) and their son Boris Kegel-Konietzko (1925-2020) continued the business. Julius Konietzko himself sold the MARKK only one object from the Kingdom of Benin in 1911.

Wilhelm Langheld (* 25 May 1867 Berlin, † 9 July 1917 Kutczany, Galicia)

was an officer of the so-called Kaiserliche Schutztruppe (Imperial German Military) and representative of the colonial administration in Cameroon and German East Africa. In 1902, he sold the museum an altar figure of a rooster from the Kingdom of Benin.

John Lembcke (* 19, March 1873, † unknown)

originally came from Mecklenburg and was a Hamburg merchant. He worked as an agent for the trading company L. Pagenstecher & Co. in southern Nigeria. The company maintained several branches in Cameroon and Nigeria and did business with raw rubber, among other things. Lembcke was probably employed at a branch of the firm in Warri, from where he went to nearby Benin City. There, he found objects which he eventually brought to Hamburg. Between 1899 and 1905, he sold 40 objects from the Kingdom of Benin to the museum.

Fritz Lüttge (* unknown, † unknown)

was active as agent of the Hamburg trading company Bey & Zimmer in Sapele, West Africa. Lüttge, whose widow later also sold objects from her late husband’s collection, had become aware of the business with works of art from the Kingdom of Benin through Friedrich Erdmann. In 1901, he sold three Benin objects to the museum.

Hugo Malitzke (* 2 November 1879 Hamburg, † unknown)

was a Hamburg merchant and travelled several times on board Woermann ships to West and East Africa in the early 20th century. An object in the MARKK’s Benin collection, which was purchased in 1905, can be traced back to him.

Oskar Meyer (* 17 August 1873, † 1 October 1914)

was a Hamburg merchant and locally active in Nigeria and Southern Cameroon, where he presumably ran a plantation in Ebolowa. Meyer, apparently through contacts with a chief, assembled a collection of pieces from the Kingdom of Benin and presumably sold them to various buyers and other intermediaries. In 1902, he sold two Benin objects to the MARKK.

Martha Raphael (* unknown, † unknown)

Only an address is available for Martha Raphael, but no further information. Possibly the widow of a merchant, she sold the museum a total of 14 objects from West Africa in 1918, including 2 objects from the Kingdom of Benin.

F. W. Reichert (* unknown, † unknown)

sold the museum two objects from the Kingdom of Benin in 1903. Beyond that, no further information about this person could be ascertained so far.

Wilhelm Anton (von) Riedemann (* 8 December 1832 Meppen; † 20 January 1920 Lugano)

was a North German merchant and pioneer in the field of tanker shipping. As a freight forwarder, Riedemann was active in the oil business and also operated a shipping company. Riedemann was one of the co-founders of the Hamburg-based German-American Petroleum Company (DAPG), which became known as “Esso” in 1950. In 1902, he donated an altar figure of a rooster from the Kingdom of Benin to the MARKK.

Dr. Max Schaumburg (* unknown, † unknown)

was a Hamburg-based collector who offered Benin works from his private collection to Felix von Luschan (1854-1924) in Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century. The latter declined. Schaumburg sold a Benin hip pendant to the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) in 1904.

Hugo Schilling (* unknown, † unknown)

was an antiquities dealer active in Hamburg in the second half of the 19th century. According to current knowledge, Schilling was not active in West Africa himself, but merely used the port of Hamburg as an important transhipment point to acquire objects brought to Hamburg by third parties (presumably mainly captains/ seamen) from all over the world. In 1898, Schilling sold the MARKK an object from the Kingdom of Benin.

Christoph Schultz (* unknown, † unknown)

offered a relief plate from the Kingdom of Benin for sale to the then Berlin Museum of Decorative Arts and later to the Royal Museum of Ethnology in 1902. This Harburg-based player, who presumably worked as a merchant or sailor, was most likely the same person who sold two pieces from the Kingdom of Benin to the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK) in the same year.

Fritz Stahl (* 10 December 1864 Rosenberg, † 9 August 1928 Berlin)

was active as a publicist, art critic and journalist under the pseudonym Fritz Stahl. His real name was Siegfried Lilienthal. On July 7, 1899, Stahl published an article on Benin art in the Berliner Tageblatt. In 1903, he sold the head of a bronze snake from the Kingdom of Benin to the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde (today MARKK).

S. Strumpf (* unknown, † unknown)

was a merchant and agent for the trading company H. Bey & Co. in West Africa. He was probably active in the “Interior of Togo”. The first name of Strumpf does not appear in any of the historical documents available on this person. He sold four objects to the museum from the Kingdom of Benin in 1903.

Heinrich Süssenbach (* unknown, † unknown)

was, according to the Hamburg address book of 1912, the representative of a spinning mill and sewing thread factory. He donated an object from the Kingdom of Benin to the museum in 1904. Further details about this donor are not known.

J. F. G. Umlauff

was a well-known Hamburg family business founded by Johann Gustav Friederich Umlauff (1833-1889) in 1869 and continued by his son Heinrich Umlauff (1868-1925). Initially run as a natural produce shop and shellfish factory, it later added ethnographic shows and the trade in ethnographic objects to its business activities. The acquisition of objects for resale took place (probably also through intermediaries) via the port of Hamburg. Between 1900 and 1937, the museum acquired a total of six objects from the Kingdom of Benin from the Umlauff company, first by purchase, then later by exchange.

Hugo Warnholtz (* unknown, † unknown)

had residence and/ or place of business in Herrengraben in downtown Hamburg. He was an active merchant in West Africa and corresponded with curator Felix von Luschan (1854-1924) in Berlin about the collection he had assembled in Africa. In 1901, he sold the MARKK a total of six objects from the Kingdom of Benin, including one piece that had originally been part of Oskar Meyer’s private collection.

William Downing Webster (* 11 May 1868, † 14 January 1913)

was a well-known British ethnographic objects dealer from whom almost all major ethnographic collections in Great Britain and continental Europe acquired pieces from the Kingdom of Benin. In addition to a donation, the MARKK’s Benin collection today contains twelve objects that were purchased from Webster in 1900/1901.

Eduard Wiggerts (* unknown, † unknown)

was a Hamburg dealer who, together with his business partner M. Salomon, ran the art and antiques shop “E. Wiggerts & Co.” based in the Colonnaden, not far from the Binnenalster. In 1899, he sold the museum the commemorative head of an Oba from the Kingdom of Benin.

Consignments after the World War II

After 1945, there were five more purchases of items from individuals who shall not be named for privacy reasons.

The Museum Folkwang was opened in Hagen in 1902 by art patron Karl Ernst Osthaus. In 1922, after Osthaus's death, the collection was bought by the specially founded Essen Folkwang Museum Association and the city of Essen. Since then, the Museum Folkwang has existed in Essen. Today, the collection focuses on modern and contemporary art since the 19th century in the fields of painting, sculpture, media art, graphic art, photography and posters. 

In addition to works of art from classical antiquity and applied art from Europe, the foundation of the collection laid by Karl Ernst Osthaus between 1898 and 1921 also includes objects from West and East Africa, Central and South America, Oceania and, above all, East Asia. The total size of the collection, which was expanded until the 1970s, today amounts to 1704 inventory numbers.

The Museum Folkwang engages with the discourses surrounding racism, Germany's colonial past and the role it itself played in it as a cultural institution. It recognises that it played a part in the transfer of objects from different cultures to Europe and the spread of racist and stereotypical ideas through the additions to its collections and their presentation, and is striving to come to terms with its holdings and its history in an appropriate manner. It is open to an exchange with the societies of origin of the objects now kept in Essen. 

The Museum Folkwang owns an object from the former Kingdom of Benin. 

As the largest state museum in Lower Saxony, the Landesmuseum Hannover houses ethnological collections as well as art, archeological, natural history and numismatic collections. It evolved from the Museum für Kunst und Wissenschaft (Museum of Art and Science), founded by civil associations in 1856, and in 1890 transformed into the Museum of the Prussian Province Hannover (“Provinzialmuseum”).

The Department of Ethnology of the Landesmuseum Hannover houses some of the oldest collections in Germany. It includes the Cabinet of Rarities of King Ernst August (1771-1851), doublet transfers from the Academic Museum in Göttingen and ethnographic objects formerly held by the Natural History Society of Lower Saxony. These objects of the early collection (established in 1853) were mainly given as gifts to the Royal Family, the associations or were collected during expansionist research and collection trips by James Cook, Georg Forster or Hermann and Robert von Schlagintweit.

During the period of German colonial expansion, Jacobus Reimers, from 1890 to 1910 director of the then Provinzialmuseum, contacted various colonial officials to actively promote the development of the collection and to advance the “colonial idea”. As a result, there was a significant increase in the ethnographic collections from 1884 to 1919. Reimers’ successor, Karl Hermann Jacob-Friesen, who pursued a colonial revisionist agenda in the 1930s, extended this focus further. From the 1960s onwards, the ethnological collection was also expanded through research and journeys by the curators. Today it comprises a total of around 24,000 objects.

The Landesmuseum Hannover holds in its collection one object that presumably originates from the former Kingdom of Benin. The "Bell of Benin" was purchased in 1925 by G. Meyer, details about the acquisition history are currently unknown.

Provenance

On July 7, 1925, a "G.Meyer, Lübeckerlandstraße 24, Eutin" offered the Prehistoric-Ethnographic Department of the Provincial Museum, addressed as Museum für Völkerkunde, today Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover (NLMH), a "Bell of Benin" for 150 mark. Enclosed with that letter was a card with the bell pictured on the front and an address on the back that "G. Meyer" refers to as "his" address in the above letter; which is "E. Jörk, Eutin, Peterstr. 12, next to the cinema" and thus differs from the address mentioned in the rest of the correspondence. On July 21, 1925, the then director of the Provinzialmuseum, Karl Hermann Jacob-Friesen, requested that the piece be sent for inspection. On 25.7.1925 the receipt of the bell from Benin was confirmed as well as a purchase of 150 marks was agreed and the remittance order in prospect in the next days. The bell was inventoried on the same day as a single object. At present nothing is known about the former provenance of the bell.

About the person "G. Meyer”

It is highly probable that "G. Meyer" is Gustav Friedrich Meyer (born February 28, 1878 in Gleschendorf/Pönitz, died July 29, 1945 in Neustadt in Holstein), who was a folklorist and local historian in Schleswig-Holstein, who did research amongst other things on fairy tales and customs of Schleswig-Holstein. He worked as a teacher and sympathized with National Socialism. At present it is not known how Gustav Meyer might have come into possession of the bell. Meyer's estate is listed in Nachlässe und Handschriftensammlungen of the Schleswig-Holstein State Library.

In the Landesmuseum Hannover

On the index card of ET 6626, a note on the scientific processing of the bell was made on 21.1.1991 by the research associate at the time, Felicitas Bergner (signed with initials "FB"): "Function: stands in front of or on top of a, shrine; is struck before the beginning of a ceremony (to call the spirits) and during prayer; occasion e.g. negative event requiring a ceremony. Bells (in other forms) still in use today." On the backside of the note reads "Information on the function from Mr. Godfrey Izedonmwen, Benin (Nigeria), eldest son of the Oba of Benin".

The bell shows patina and traces of rust, it was oiled with Ballistol on 11/16/1956. So far, the bell is not known to have been exhibited or published.

The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum holds 94 royal artworks from the Kingdom of Benin, the fourth-largest such collection in Germany.  The museum received these works of art between 1899 and 1967 as donations and purchases. It is considered certain that all of them were looted from the palace of the Oba of Benin by the British Army in February 1897. The oldest and most valuable works of art date from the period between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while the majority where created from the mid-eighteenth to late-nineteenth centuries. Some 65 of the RJM’s 94 Benin Bronzes were acquired before 1902 at auction houses in London by the Rautenstrauch family – the museum’s namesake and major patron – and donated as gifts to the City of Cologne. 

Despite their international significance, these 94 pieces of royal art had yet to be classified historically and iconographically. The RJM – supported by the Museumsgesellschaft RJM e.V. with funds from the bequest of Ludwig Theodor – therefore commissioned an initial overview of the origins of the royal works of art in 2020. Beginning in 2021, it has also commissioned an overview study to analyse the techniques and materials of the collection. A preliminary report on the collection’s history and the complete inventory of the collection have been publicly available on the RJM website since January 2020. In addition, since November 2020, all 94 royal artworks have been comprehensively presented online, prompted by the special exhibition RESIST! The Art of Resistance. Their provenance has likewise been communicated to visitors.

The Municipal Museum was founded by Brunswick citizens in 1861 as part of a citizens' initiative on the occasion of the city's millennium celebration. The goal was to collect "objects worthy of preservation" from the Duchy of Brunswick. The receipt of artifacts from the non-European world is documented for the first time in 1865.

Initially still regarded as "oddities" or "varia," an independent ethnographic collection focus crystallized at the Municipal Museum from the 1870s onward, which was expanded between 1893 and 1917 in particular. Since then, it has shaped the profile of this important cultural institution of Lower Saxony, along with the latter's collections of art, decorative arts, design history, historical musical instruments, and numismatics.

Today, the ethnographic collection of the Municipal Museum comprises almost 9.000 object numbers. Regional foci of the worldwide collection are Africa, Indonesia, and Oceania. However, the collection also contains other highlights, among which rarities from North America are particularly noteworthy.

The Municipal Museum is firmly committed to a critical reappraisal of the colonial references of its ethnographic holdings. This attitude has not only been expressed by an increase in staff in the area of provenance research. It is also reflected in the new conception of the permanent ethnological exhibition, which is scheduled to open in 2022. The focus here will be on the aspect of acquisition contexts and the identification of holdings from colonial, and in particular German-colonial contexts of injustice. Ongoing collaborative provenance and restitution initiatives with partners in Cameroon and Namibia will also play an important role.

The Staatlichen Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen, SES (State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony) are part of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) consortium. They are located in the cities of Leipzig, Dresden and Herrnhut. With a total around 350,000 objects, 200,000 images and 350,000 library holdings, the three ethnographic museums in Leipzig, Dresden and Herrnhut jointly hold the second-largest collection of their kind in Germany. To reposition themselves in the international context in response to the fundamental changes in the landscape of ethnological museums, the SES are developing new exhibition, event and communication concepts along with interdisciplinary research programmes. Researching their holdings, especially in regard to their circumstances of acquisition, is an important part of their self-definition and their mission.

Provenance

The provenance of the Benin objects is currently being researched by the institution.

Lübeck‘s Ethnological Collection was created over a period of three hundred years, and now holds over 30,000 objects from all continents. The formation of the collection was rooted in trade relations of the Hanseatic city, and its identity was intertwined with the civic spirit. Despite starting out as a private institution, it became part of a non-profit organisation in 1831, and remained so until 1934, when it was assimilated into a municipal institution. The bombing of Lübeck in 1942 led to the destruction of the museum building in the cathedral, bringing the museum work to a halt.

The collection became accessible to the public once more only in 1985, after being moved into the city's former armoury building – the Zeughaus. The old museum, now called the Völkerkundesammlung, could offer exhibitions and events in its own rooms once again.

In 2002, a citizenry decision led to the exhibition rooms of the armoury building being shut down to the public, but exhibitions continued to take place in other locations such as the St. Annen Kunsthalle and the St. Annen Museum. The collections remain housed in the armoury building. On November 29, 2018, the citizenry decision was revoked, and drafts for a possible new location are being developed.

At present, the Ethnological Collection continues to hold exhibitions in various museums around the city, in partnership with the other museums in the Lübeck Museum Association.

The Weltkulturen Museum is an ethnological museum which is committed to interdisciplinary cooperation. It operates at the intersection of ethnology and art. As a museum of the city of Frankfurt, it is engaged in an active process of international exchange with partners from indigenous cultures and non-European societies. The Weltkulturen Museum is committed to preserving, looking after and researching the collections in dialogue with their societies of origin, and with artists and scholars. A key goal is researching provenance and critically reappraising colonial contexts.

The Weltkulturen Museum holds a collection of 65,000 ethnographic artefacts from Oceania, Africa, Southeast Asia as well as from North, South and Central America. This is complemented by the collection visual anthropology of some 120,000 historical and contemporary ethnographic photos and films.

53 objects in this collection are attributed to the Kingdom of Benin. All objects, with two exceptions (a bell entered in 1926, a figurative sculpture in 1974), entered the museum's collection no later than 1910. In our database, a total of eight collectors or previous owners are listed in connection with the objects from the Kingdom of Benin. The majority of the objects were acquired from dealers, including William Downing Webster, who is known to have traded in objects from the 1897 punitive expedition.

The research of this collection is being focused and advanced in ongoing projects and research.

The Roemer-Museum (until 1894: City Museum) in Hildesheim was founded in 1844. It is a multidisciplinary museum with collections from the realms of natural history, art history, city and regional history, and ethnology. The Pelizaeus-Museum with its collections mainly from Ancient Egypt but also from Mediterranean Antiquity opened in 1911. In 1958 the two museums became united as “Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum” (RPM) under one roof in a new museum building.

Today, the ethnographic collection comprises about 14,000 objects from every continent. When the museum was founded, that collection consisted of 28 objects but soon began to grow steadily. This was not least due to the initiative of Hermann Roemer, one of the museum’s founders, who later became its director (1873–1894). He attached much importance to increasing all collections. Particularly, natives of Hildesheim living overseas were called upon to contribute to the ethnographic collection, and they gladly complied to that wish. The ethnographic holdings continued to increase under Roemer’s successors Achilles Andreae (director 1894–1905) and Rudolf Hauthal (director 1905–1925). From 1904 until 1914 the Berlin anthropologist and interim director (1905/06) of the Roemer-Museum, Edgar Walden (1876–1914), was in charge of the ethnographic collection and expanded it, mainly with doublets from the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin where he was employed.

The colonial contexts in which ethnographic objects were acquired have been, and continue to be, the subject of provenance research projects at the RPM. A first project conducted in 2017/18 investigated the circumstances of acquisition of objects that came to the Roemer-Museum from the Royal Museum of Ethnology in the late 19th/early 20th century. From 2018 until 2021, the joint project Provenance Research in Non-European Collections and Ethnography in Lower Saxony” (PAESE), funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, included a subproject at the RPM. The subproject was on the provenance of collections from various colonial contexts, with a regional focus on collections from Oceania, Africa (e. g., “German Southwest Africa” involving cooperation with experts from Namibia), and Indonesia/the Dutch East Indies.

Four bronze objects from Benin are kept at the RPM. One is a commemorative head of a king, which was purchased by the RPM from the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin in 1914. Three more bronzes were bought in the art trade from the dealer Konietzko in 1912. As to the way the commemorative head was acquired by the Royal Museum, information may probably be found in documents kept at the archives of today’s Ethnological Museum Berlin.