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HOME : African & Tribal Art : AS collection : Benin Aquamanile in the Form of a Leopard's Head
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Benin Aquamanile in the Form of a Leopard's Head - PF.6286
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 17 th Century AD
Dimensions: 3.375" (8.6cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze


Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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Description
The art of Benin is the product of an urban royal court, and is meant to symbolize and to extol the power, mystique, grandeur, continuity, and endurance of the ruling dynasty. The Kingdom of Benin was ruled by the Oba, a divine leader at the head of the political system. As the office of the Oba became increasingly ceremonial, the art produced evolved into an instrument of the state. This charming bronze sculpture takes the form of a leopard’s head, replete with whiskers and pointed fangs. Big cats have traditionally symbolized political power and authoritative rule from the jungles of Mesoamerica to the deserts of the Middle East. Much as jaguars and lions dominate their respective terrains, likewise the king, who associates himself with these great beasts, rules his kingdom without challenge. The leopard naturally symbolized the strength and ferocity of the Oba and served as the royal animal, thus any object depicting a leopard was reserved for the Oba or the closest members of his court. This bronze head served as an aquamanile, a type of water vessel introduced into Africa by European traders. Originally, a lid would have been attached to the hinge along the rim of the hole in the center of the top of the head. When filled with water and tipped downwards, water would have flowed through the holes in the nostrils unto the hands of the Oba for ceremonial cleansing. When not used in rituals, the work would have rested with other pieces of royal paraphernalia in the courtyard of the Oba’s palace. While this aquamanile served a practical purpose, the refined beauty of the casting and the symbolism of the leopard imbue the piece with a power and grace befitting the mighty animal it honors. - (PF.6286)

 

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