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Leopard in Lisbon

by Entwistle on 21 March 2017

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon will display our magnificent Benin bronze aquamanile in the form of a leopard...

Entwistle is proud to announce that our Benin bronze aquamanile will form part of the exhibition 'A Cidade Global: Lisboa no Rinascimento' (The Global City: Lisbon in the Renaissance) to be held at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon from 24 February to 9 April, 2017.

It can be argued that the smelting of copper and zinc ores and the casting of brass in West Africa and Benin dates back possibly as early as the 10th century; however, it was contact and trade with the Portuguese beginning in the 15th century that allowed the wealth and development of brass casting to flourish in Benin.


In Benin, the leopard represented the absolute power of the king, or Oba, over human life and order, as reflected in metaphor and artistic tradition. Leopards on the renowned bronze plaques that once lined the pillars and walls of the king's palace; the pendants once worn on the left side of ceremonial robes; and even the traditional slash-mark scarification on men and women - all reflected the presence of the Oba as supreme leader.

While the iconic leopard stood for the king in emblem and aphorism, in real life it was also the king who could exclusively order the hunting and capture of the much-feared animal as well as sacrifice one of its kind in a yearly ceremony to solidify this cultural association. It was for this event that, in preparation for the ritual beheading of the leopard, the Oba's hands were washed with water poured from a bronze aquamanile like the present example.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

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