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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Benin : Benin Bronze Hip Ornament in the Form of a Leopard's Head
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Benin Bronze Hip Ornament in the Form of a Leopard's Head - PF.4483
Origin: Southcentral Nigeria
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 18 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6.75" (17.1cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Benin
Medium: Bronze

Location: UAE
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It is believed by the Benin people that the first inhabitants, the Bini, came from heaven. The Benin state emerged in what is today Nigeria around the 13th Century A.D., and became a flourishing kingdom by the 15th Century. At the center of political, social and religious life was the Oba, or king who ruled with absolute power. Acquiring vast wealth through monopolies in commercial exchanges with the Portuguese and his portion in the ivory trade, the kings spent lavishly on art, employing a guild of artisans who lived in the same district of the city. Most of the objects are in bronze, and the Benin artists developed extraordinary expertise in this art form. Their fame spread widely throughout the western world as museums began collecting their works.

This comes as no surprise when seeing such an example as this lovely mask. The detail is remarkable, especially when considering it is done in the difficult substance of bronze. It depicts a zoomorphic face, very much like a stylized jaguar or panther. Elements of pure fantasy blend with realism- its teeth are long and fiercesome, similar to a boar. The eyes glare out as if peering through the night; and if we let our imagination run free we can almost see the glint of a mighty cat's eyes glitter in the jungle darkness. The ears are more like leaves or flowers of some exotic plant, but suit the face absolutely perfectly. This mask would have been worn by the Oba during important ceremonies, and what a superb sight it must have been! The entire object is so cleverly designed, with naturalistic detail and mythical aspects, a creature of delightful whimsy and power emerges from bronze, radiating its own special light, fit for a king.
- (PF.4483)


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