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Hip ornament showing a leopard

Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
17th century
Artist Unidentified


Dimensions

Height x length: 10.2 x 26.7 cm (4 x 10 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

L-G 7.17.2012

Medium or Technique

Ivory

On View

Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)

Collections

Africa and Oceania, Jewelry

Classifications

Jewelry / Adornment

The dark, smooth surface of this hip ornament reflects the age of the ivory and the regular care and maintenance that its owner provided. The leopard would have been worn on the left hip, covering the knot of a senior courtier’s wrapper. Ivory sculptures were carved by a royal guild called Igbesanmwan, from small hip ornaments like this one to elaborate carved tusks made for memorial altars. Some scholars argue that only a war chief would have worn a leopard hip ornament, as a reminder of his allegiance to the king of Benin and an allusion to the fierce, predatory power of the leopard.

Provenance

By 1959, Jay C. Leff (b. 1925 - d. 2000), Uniontown, PA [see note]; April 22, 1967, Leff sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, lot 77, sold for $2400. 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.

NOTE: Included in the exhibitions "Exotic Art from Ancient and Primitive Civilizations: Collection of Jay C. Leff (Carnegie Institute, October 15, 1959 – January 3, 1960), cat. no. 290 and "African Sculpture from the Collection of Jay C. Leff" (Museum of Primitive Art, New York, November 25, 1964 – February 7, 1965), cat. no. 81.

Credit Line

Robert Owen Lehman Collection