African art > Bronze, leopard, messenger, warrior, statue, pirogues > Leopard Benin
Bronze Benin leopard figure (N° 18970)
Ex-Corsican African art collection.
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The leopard, representing the royal power, has a central place in the culture of the Benin kingdom because this animal appears in the founding myth of which King Ewuare is the hero. According to the legend, King Ewuare 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 Benin kingdom in 1897, the divine character of the kings, the Oba, was illustrated by multiple works celebrating their power. War scenes were reproduced on narrative plaques, made of bronze, and affixed to the walls. Sumptuous bronze altars, commemorative figures of deceased chiefs, heavy bracelets, anklets and recades were produced in quantity in numerous workshops of founders according to the technique of the lost wax casting.
The killing of the king of the animals associated with legends, the leopard, was the privilege of the chief, the Oba. The feline could then be used as an offering for the worship of the head of the chief. Sometimes tamed by various royal guilds, it accompanied the chief during his travels. The Oba, named "child of the leopard of the house", could also offer the teeth or the skin to commanders whose loyalty was evident. The rich iconography of Benin is therefore full of references to this animal. The sculpture, decorated with lozenge motifs representing the ocelli, has a brown and golden patina.