King of Benin with Soldiers, late 17th cent.


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Image Reference
B016

Source
Pieter van der Aa, La Galerie Agréable du Monde (Leide, 1729); taken from D. O. Dapper, Description de l'Afrique . . . Traduite du Flamand (Amsterdam,1686; 1st ed., 1668), p. 311. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-34004)

Comments
Note weapons; cavalary and infantry in background. "He is a powerful prince, the King of Benin. In one day he can assemble 20,000 soldiers, and in a short time raise an army of 80 to 100,000 men; he is also the terror of his neighbors and the fear of their peoples" (Dapper, p. 311; our translation). In an informed discussion of Dapper as an historical source, Adam Jones writes "there is virtually no evidence" that Dapper "took much interest in what sort of visual material was to accompany his text," and that it was the publisher, Van Meurs, "who probably did all the engraving himself." With respect to the plates, in particular, Jones concludes: "For those interested in seventeenth-century black Africa rather than in the history of European perceptions, few of the plates showing human beings and artefacts are of any value . . . . [and] originated solely from Van Meurs' imagination . . . .[although] they have been used as historical evidence in modern works" (Decompiling Dapper: A Preliminary Search for Evidence (History in Africa [1990], vol. 17, pp. 187-190).