The extraordinary bronzes of the Benin kingdom in what is now Nigeria exhibit a virtuosity and sophistication of style that has astonished the Western world since they were visited in the 15th Century. Their work was brought to Europe following a punitive expedition by the British in 1897, causing a great sensation. The people of Benin, called Bini, are descended from the Ife, also known for their remarkable bronzes. Almost all Benin art was created to honor the king , or Oba, who has reigned, with his ancestors, from the 15th century. Styles have changed over the years. Although similar to many older works, these are all 20th C. pieces. Each is still sculpted by hand, then cast in bronze by the lost wax process.
Bronze Leopards, a royal icon, were often used as royal water vessels. Water was poured from the mouth over the Oba's hands in cleansing rituals. When not in use, they were kept on royal altars.
All stand without bases. Many have minor holes, casting flaws. Old Benin bronzes are very rare. Despite their appearance, these are all 20th C. pieces and were probably made to be sold.
Since only pieces made to be sold are available now, we will not be getting any Benin leopards in the future.