Relief plaque showing a king (Oba) dominating leopards
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 37.5 x 19.1 cm (14 3/4 x 7 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
The Oba, or king, of Benin can claim an almost supernatural power. Here, he is depicted grasping two leopards by their tails and wearing a belt of living mudfish. The leopard, the swift and aggressive king of the forest, is a metaphor for the Benin king. Some species of mudfish are also fearsome, as they can sting with an electrical charge. Mudfish are further connected to the concept of royal power because they live in oceans and rivers, the abode of the god of wealth and the source of royal coral regalia. The coral-beaded tunic, crown and collars are worn by many elite members of the court, but the large bead at the center of the figure’s chest further confirms that this is the Oba, wearing the bead of rule. This plaque is one of a group of more than 800 that once adorned the pillars of the palace audience hall. The living Oba would have received visitors in this hall, surrounded by shining bronze images of himself and his courtiers.
J.J. Klejman (dealer; b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York; sold by Klejman to Robert Owen Lehman; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection