From the fifteenth through the nineteenth century, the powerful Benin Kingdom spread throughout southern Nigeria. Although the oba, a divine king, ruled the state, his many chiefs helped in its administration. They were organized in a highly hierarchical system, and costume elements reflected their rank. Bronze, still a precious metal in Benin today, could in the past only be worn with the oba's permission.Bronze pendants, worn at the hip, took the form of human, ram, crocodile, baboon, and leopard heads. The oba was the only person in Benin who had the right to take human life, and the leopard was his symbol. When he delegated his power to kill to his war leaders, he gave them a leopard head pendant. The oba also wore leopard head pendants, but his were carved from iv.. The pendant shows a leopard with pouched cheeks, large slanted eyes (the proper left eye set slightly higher than the right), and a nose with pierced nostrils. The partially open mouth reveals a tongue caught between two rows of teeth, which include prominent incisors.
Five raised whiskers flank either side of the mouth, and the leaflike ears are placed close together on the narrow forehead. The leopard has spots, differing in diameter and degree of relief; the surrounding surface is stippled.The bottom flange includes a row of rings that were originally hung with jingling crotals. The mask was attached to the costume by the five cast-on rings on side and top. Several southern Nigerian cultures historically produced bronze hip pendants.
This leopard pendant is, however, clearly from Benin. It follows stylistic conventions established in Benin brass by at least the sixteenth century, when standing figures of horn-blowers or military officers were depicted on figurative plaques wearing similar pendants. Slightly smaller than the this example, its facial modeling is more pronounced; it includes inlaid iron eyes, but lacks the raised spots. The pendant dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, a convincing conclusion based on its style, quality, and weight. Human head pendants from Benin are quite common, but only about fifty leopard head ornaments survive.Several have been published in sales or collection catalogues, but none are identical in treatment or form to this unusually large example. Leopard spots are often rendered as flat circles, although some pendants have raised copper insets. Many examples include flanges, although they are seldom so elaborately constructed.
Crotals, raised whiskers, and stippling are also common. Almost all known bronze leopard pendants are cast, although a few nineteenth-century examples are made from beaten sheet brass. The leopard was, and is, a widespread symbol of authority and rulership in southern Nigeria, conferring by association the animal's characteristic beauty and elegance, as well as its deadliness, speed, and surety, upon the wearer.Since Oba Ewuare's reign in the mid fifteenth century, the leopard has been inextricably identified with the monarchy. Before he was crowned, Ewuare lived in exile, wandering in the wilderness. One day he awoke to feel blood dripping on his face. He looked up and saw a leopard resting on an overhanging branch, an antelope in its jaws.
Interpreting his survival as a sign of luck and an omen of future kingship, he demonstrated his mastery by killing the animal. Ewuare subsequently decreed that all future obas should sacrifice a leopard at least once during their reign. Seventeenth-century European visitors saw semitame leopards at the Benin court. In precolonial times, several highly respected royal guilds dealt with the leopard, the oba's animal counterpart.When a leopard, dead or alive, was brought before the oba, its face was covered, for, as a Benin proverb states, Two obas can't see each other's faces. Brass casters, like all those who made or took care of objects for the oba, belonged to hereditary guilds. When the oba desired an object, he summoned the guild chiefs, gave them their orders and raw materials, and awaited the product. The oba's satisfaction with a work resulted in awards which were shared by guild members according to an internal hierarchy. Although there was certainly room for creativity within the guild, conformity to certain set models was expected, and apprenticeship training encouraged the continuity of traditions.
While the individual maker of this pendant is unknown, he would have been a member of the brass caster's guild, or Igun Eronmwon. Working only at the oba's command, they created cire perdue heads and figures for his ancestral altars, as well as pendants, bracelets, and other ornaments for his chiefs.Before casting took place, guild members purified themselves and practiced sexual abstinence to achieve an ideal ritual state. They then prayed and made offerings to their ancestors, to their personal guiding spirits (ehi), and to Ogun, deity of iron and war, who is personified by tools and metal itself. While casters worked on smaller projects (probably including hip ornaments) in their own town quarter, more ritually significant objects were made in secrecy at the palace. In such instances, the oba himself participated in the pouring of metal. Due to the antique/vintage nature of our items, we encourage our buyers to carefully read the description and measurements of the item to avoid any disappointments, here might be some slight imperfections, most likely they will show flaws consistent with ware, ages, and use which only add character and charm to the items. Each item is described and photographed as accurately as possible.
Please look at my other auctions. The item "Antique Mega Rare African Tribal Antique BENIN KINGDOM Cast Bronze Leopard" is in sale since Monday, March 29, 2021. This item is in the category "Antiques\Ethnographic\African\Masks".The seller is "simoron888" and is located in Brooklyn, New York. This item can be shipped to United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Czech republic, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Estonia, Australia, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia, Japan, China, Sweden, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, South africa, Thailand, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Bahamas, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, Saudi arabia, Ukraine, United arab emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Croatia, Malaysia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa rica, Panama, Trinidad and tobago, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Barbados, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Brunei darussalam, Bolivia, Ecuador, Egypt, French guiana, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Iceland, Jersey, Jordan, Cambodia, Cayman islands, Liechtenstein, Sri lanka, Luxembourg, Monaco, Macao, Martinique, Maldives, Nicaragua, Oman, Peru, Pakistan, Paraguay, Reunion, Viet nam, Uruguay.