Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

German Lost Art Foundation supports project on works from Benin at the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main

Date 2022.07.25

The Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion is fund­ing a six-month re­search project on works from the King­dom of Benin (Nige­ria) which are part of the col­lec­tion at the Weltkul­turen Mu­se­um (Mu­se­um of World Cul­tures) in Frank­furt. The aim of the project is to in­ves­ti­gate the prove­nance of these ob­jects in more de­tail and to re­con­struct the cir­cum­stances of their ac­qui­si­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, an at­tempt is be­ing made to clar­i­fy whether any of the ob­jects – and if so which ones – ar­rived in Eu­rope as a re­sult of the British “puni­tive ex­pe­di­tion" in 1897, even­tu­al­ly end­ing up at what was then the Völk­er­mu­se­um.

Of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 14,000 ob­jects from Africa, 57 were in­ven­to­ried at the Frank­furt mu­se­um with the ge­o­graph­i­cal ref­er­ence “Benin King­dom, Nige­ria”. Al­though parts of this col­lec­tion of Benin ob­jects have been pre­sent­ed in ex­hi­bi­tions and pub­li­ca­tions, the con­text of their ac­qui­si­tion has hard­ly been in­ves­ti­gat­ed to date. Re­search has con­sis­tent­ly been ham­pered by the up­heavals of the mu­se­um’s his­to­ry: the col­lec­tions of the Weltkul­turen Mu­se­um orig­i­nat­ed as hold­ings of the nat­u­ral his­to­ry so­ci­ety Senck­en­ber­gis­che Natur­forschende Gesellschaft. Some items were giv­en to the His­torisches Mu­se­um (Mu­se­um of His­to­ry) in 1877. Since the lat­ter’s open­ing as the Städtis­ches Völk­er­mu­se­um (Mu­nic­i­pal Eth­no­log­i­cal Mu­se­um) in 1904, it un­der­went nu­mer­ous re­lo­ca­tions as well as suf­fer­ing bomb at­tacks dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

From 1924 to 1969, the mu­se­um was as­so­ci­at­ed with the Frobe­nius-In­sti­tut (then known as the Forschungsin­sti­tut für Kul­tur­mor­pholo­gie – Re­search In­sti­tute for Cul­tur­al Mor­phol­o­gy). Since 1973, the mu­se­um has had its per­ma­nent home in the Vil­la am Schau­mainkai 29. All in all, source ma­te­ri­al on the ob­jects is sparse due to the loss of the in-house doc­u­ment archive dur­ing the bomb­ing of Frank­furt in the Sec­ond World War. The mu­se­um’s re­main­ing archival records con­tain few de­tails of how the Benin ob­jects came to be in the col­lec­tion.

The re­sults of the project are to serve as a start­ing point for di­a­logue with Nige­ri­an part­ners and po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions.