Germany Unveils Comprehensive Database of Its Benin Bronzes

In April, Germany made a landmark promise to begin returning the Benin Bronzes—thousands of objects stolen by British soldiers during the 19th century—in its holdings starting next year. As part of the declaration, the country also said it would begin making publicly available information about these works, and now it has lived up to its word.

This week, Germany unveiled a digital database for its Benin Bronzes that offers provenance and images for more than 1,100 objects. Titled the German Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts, it will continue to be updated, and is meant to offer greater transparency.

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Much of the momentum to return the Benin Bronzes has been driven by German institutions over the past few years. In March, the Humboldt Forum in Berlin said that it would not show the Benin Bronzes in its holdings. That news was followed in April by Germany’s pledge to send back the Benin Bronzes, which already appears to have been influential. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said it would send back two Benin Bronzes in its holdings, putting it among the first U.S. institutions to do so.

The Benin Bronzes are a set of thousands of objects that were looted from the Kingdom of Benin (now part of present-day Nigeria) in 1897 by the British. They were taken back to England and subsequently dispersed around the world. Hundreds remain in the collections of the British Museum in London.

According to the provenances provided on the German Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts, many in the country’s holdings were acquired from the British Museum around the turn of the 20th century. Objects on the site come from various institutions, including Berlin’s Ethnology Museum, the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg, and the Linden-Museum Stuttgart.


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