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. Mudfish are also symbolic of royal power as they live in oceans and rivers, the abode of the god of wealth and the source of royal coral regalia. Some species of mudfish are also fearsome and capable of stinging with an electrical charge. While coral-beaded tunics, crowns, and collars are worn by many elite members of the court, the large bead at the center of the figure’s chest indicates 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.
16th century, commissioned by Oba Esigie (r. 1517-1550s) or his son Oba Orhogbua (r. 1550s-1570s), Royal Palace, Benin City; by descent to Oba Ovonramwen (Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, b. about 1857 – d. about 1914; r. 1888 - 1897); 1897, probably taken from the Royal Palace during the British military occupation of Benin. J.J. Klejman (dealer; b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York; sold by Klejman to Robert Owen Lehman, Rochester, NY; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection