Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of artifacts at the museum that were stolen from the Kingdom of Benin.
A stolen artifact from what was once the Kingdom of Benin will be removed from the Denver Art Museum’s collection as the institution works to repatriate pieces looted from other nations.
The museum is currently home to 11 artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, which is now modern-day Nigeria. At least one was stolen from the kingdom’s largest city when British forces invaded in 1897. The museum is removing that item from its collection — a bronze plaque from 1550-1650 detailing a “court nobleman or possibly a chief showing details of his regalia.” It came into the museum’s possession in 1955, when it was purchased from a New York art gallery.
The museum said it is taking steps towards repatriating the work because its research into the piece’s background was recently completed.
“The museum will continue to act in good faith as a global partner on matters of art repatriation and restitution,” museum spokesperson Andy Sinclar said in an email. “To date the museum has not been contacted by anyone in Nigeria about these works or requests for their return.”
The Denver Post first reported on the pressure facing institutions, including the Denver Art Museum, to return hundreds of pieces of art to their home countries. The museum said it is still conducting research into the other Benin artifacts’ origins.
Researching provenance — or history of ownership of an object — is a vital part of the museum’s responsibilities. Sometimes that research might lead the museum to repatriate a piece.