African art > Bronze > Leopard Benin
Bronze Benin leopard figure (N° 18970)
The leopard, representing royal power, has a central place in the culture of the benign kingdom because this animal appears in the founding myth of which King Ewuare is the hero. According to the legend, he wakes up after spending a night next to a leopard and a snake without realizing it. As in other cosmogonies, animals are the manifestation or even the incarnation of supernatural forces. To be spared by these predators is therefore a sign of divine blessing.
Before the destruction of the palace of the kingdom of Benin in 1897, the divine character of the kings, the Oba, was illustrated by numerous works celebrating their power. War scenes were reproduced on bronze narrative plaques and affixed to the walls. Sumptuous bronze altars, commemorative figures of deceased chiefs, heavy bracelets, anklets and recades were produced in quantity in many foundry workshops according to the lost wax casting technique.
The killing of the king of the animals associated with the legends, the leopard, was the privilege of the chief, the Oba. The cat could then be used as an offering to worship the chief's head. Sometimes tamed by various royal guilds, it accompanied the chief on his travels. The Oba, named "child of the leopard of the house," could also offer teeth or skin to commanders whose loyalty was evident. The rich benign iconography thus abounds with references to this animal. The sculpture, decorated with lozenge motifs depicting the ocelli, has a brown and golden patina.
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