Benin: Restitution as a process

Since September 18, 2022

The restitution of the objects looted in 1897 in the Kingdom of Benin (Nigeria) is in full swing. The Linden-Museum is a member of the Benin Dialogue Group, which has prepared and accompanied this process for years. With a presentation in the upper foyer, we trace the objects’ path to the Linden-Museum historically, make milestones of their return to Benin City visible, and present perspectives on their future. Most of the artworks are currently still in our permanent exhibition Wo ist Afrika? can be seen.

Origin of the objects
In 1897, Benin City, the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, became the target of a British “punitive expedition”. Large parts of the city were burned and destroyed in the process. British soldiers looted several thousand objects from the royal palace and other buildings of high-ranking dignitaries. Most of the looted objects were sold by the British military or military personnel and many were sold at auctions in London. Buyers were private individuals, museums as well as ethnographic dealers who profited from the intermediate trade to museums. The Benin collection kept at the Linden-Museum includes 70 objects that can be attributed to the Kingdom of Benin and, for the most part, to this violent context. More than half of the collection arrived at the museum as early as 1899 and can be traced back to the Hamburg dealer Heinrich Bey.

Benin Dialogue Group
The Linden-Museum has been involved in the Benin Dialogue Group since 2018. The aim of this working group, established in 2007 by Barbara Plankensteiner and her Nigerian partners, is to promote dialogue between representatives of museums with large Benin collections in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Great Britain with representatives of Edo State, the Royal Palace of Benin, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. For years, the group has promoted the transparent sharing of knowledge and information about existing collections, laid the groundwork for restitution discussions of Benin objects, and assisted in the construction of the new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City.

From Germany, in addition to Stuttgart, the ethnological museums in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and Leipzig/Dresden are participating. At the beginning of 2021, the German Federal Foreign Office, the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the sponsors of museums as well as the museum directors in Germany agreed on a joint, coordinated approach by the federal and state governments for the restitution of the Benin objects to Nigeria. On July 1, 2022, the return agreement of all Benin properties to Nigeria was signed. On December 20, 2022, the first object from our collection to be returned to the Federal Republic of Nigeria was the miniature mask of the King’s Mother Idia (16th century) by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Abuja. A further 45 works from Benin are to be restituted in the course of 2023, and 24 objects are to remain in Stuttgart on permanent loan at the request of the Nigerian partners for the time being.

The restitution opens up new perspectives for the cooperation partners and the participating institutions to jointly research the museum collections across geographical borders and make them accessible to a broad public. Descendants of the royal family, the Nigerian population and visitors will be able to view the artworks of Benin at the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) and experience their historical and contemporary cultural significance in the place where they were looted 125 years ago. In addition, digitization processes such as photographs or 3D scans enable the worldwide research, documentation, and communication of artworks regardless of the objects’ location.


€ 4/3 incl. permanent exhibitions


Fiona Siegenthaler

Dr. Fiona Siegenthaler

Phone +49.711.2022-406

Postkarten und Schals im Museumsshop

Museum shop

Order our exhibition catalogs, books and gift items easily online

Museum shop

Reference to the shop with catalog and other exhibition-related articles

Collection online

Here you will find detailed information and background information on the objects in our collection.

Sponsored by: