Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This pendant features a leopard’s face with bulging eyes, a long nose, overlapping fangs, and leaf-shaped ears. It wears a collar from which hang bells, called crotals, and a headband with an interlaced design. Its surface is covered in an engraved pattern of tiny dots, and it is studded with copper tacks that represent the leopard’s spots.
- In Benin culture the leopard was a symbol of royal authority, intelligence, and fierceness. The oba (king) gave leopard hip ornaments like this one to his military chiefs, to wear as badges of honor. The leopard symbol provided protection to the wearer and gave him the authority to act in the king’s name.
- This object would have been worn to ceremonies commemorating events in the oba’s reign or celebrating his spiritual or moral leadership.
- The creator of this pendant was from Edo, also known as Benin City, in the Benin Kingdom in what is now Nigeria. This city was one of the most prosperous and developed in the world during medieval times, and it is famous for the brass and bronze work that Edo artists created.
- The history of Edo and its people was unknown for many years, due to colonial efforts to keep people from learning about African history. This pendant is evidence of the strength of the Edo people.
In the Benin Kingdom, the leopard was valued both for its ferociousness and its intelligence. This powerful royal symbol was associated with the oba (king) and the most powerful members of his court. Pendants like this were worn around the waist and helped identify an individual’s rank within the court. The right to wear a leopard hip pendant was only granted to a few special members of the king’s court, often warriors.
This pendant features leopard characteristics that are specific to Edo artists such as leaf-shaped ears, overlapping fangs, large eyes, and geometric whiskers. By placing copper tacks inside the mold before casting the pendant, the artist highlights and differentiates the leopard’s spots. The small metal bells attached to the lower edge of the leopard’s collar add a sound-making component to this ceremonial object.
Resources for Teachers:
- Explore a similar leopard hip ornament in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.
- Learn more about the Benin Empire and the Edo peoples.
- Read an article about Benin City and its destruction.
Resources for Students: