London (CNN)The Benin bronzes are universally recognized as a towering achievement in the history of art.
Artists of the once-mighty Kingdom of Benin, in present day Edo State, Nigeria, honed sophisticated techniques over centuries to craft detailed depictions of life in the Kingdom, from court scenes to foreign soldiers.
Thousands of the finest examples went on display at the palace of the king.
The collection was looted wholesale in 1897 when the British army sacked the palace and razed the kingdom in a punitive expedition.
The bronzes were sold and scattered across Western museums, where they met with astonishment and prompted revisions of racist assumptions about African art.
Since independence, the Nigerian government has intermittently pressed claims for restitution of the bronzes, which the museums have resisted.
But a solution to the impasse may be at hand.
The Benin Dialogue Group (BDG) was formed in 2007 with the task of facilitating a permanent display of bronzes in Benin City.
The BDG bought together representatives of Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the Royal Court of Benin, and several European museums with bronze collections.
The most significant artworks are housed at the British Museum in London and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.
The group is now exploring the possibility of loaning artifacts back to Nigeria.
A spokesperson for the British Museum said a recent BDG meeting ended with a proposal "to work towards a permanent, but rotating, exhibition of loaned objects" to Nigeria.
The British Museum and others are open to contributing to this collection. Negotiations are at an early stage with no timescale established.
Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki Godwin of Edo State, told CNN that the administration favors permanent restitution, although he added that "in the event of not getting our wishes we have to negotiate."