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New African Art in Boston

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Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

A very special slice of Africa’s artistic heritage has landed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Robert Owen Lehman Collection—the single greatest private holding of works of art from the Benin Kingdom, which was located in present-day Nigeria, dating from the late-15th to the 19th centuries—opened on September 24 as a new permanent gallery.

Joining the MFA’s collection of African art, which began in the 1990s, the 36 works in bronze and ivory include 15 relief plaques depicting rulers, dignitaries and narrative scenes; a variety of bronzes (copper alloy pieces produced and made in a lost wax-casting technique); and two late-15th-­century ivory salt cellars from what is currently Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Benin Kingdom ruled from the 12th to the 19th centuries, when British forces overtook it and removed thousands of pieces from the kingdom’s palace. “Rare” doesn’t begin to describe the museum’s acquisition. “Visitors will have an intimate look at some of the most exquisitely crafted works created by artists in Africa south of the Sahara desert,” says Christraud Geary, the MFA’s Teel senior curator of African and Oceanic art. “Many of the objects haven’t been on view in decades—and never in Boston.” 465 Huntington Ave.; 617-267-9300; mfa.org.

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