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The Kingdom of Benin existed in West Africa from the 14th Century until the late 19th Century and was one of Africa’s great medieval empires. It was an important trading centre and was linked to other trading city states such as Timbuktu; gold and ivory from the forests and savannah’s of West Africa being carried all the way across the Sahara to the distant shores of the Mediterranean. The City of Benin was ruled by a King – the Oba. The leopard was often used as a symbol for the King, who was referred to as “The Leopard of the House” – reinforcing his link to the powerful, mysterious predators who were the rulers of the forests beyond the city walls. Tame leopards were kept in the royal quarters and lead through the city streets on leashes during important parades and ceremonies. They were also believed to be the protectors of the Queen Mother.
This bronze leopard comes from West Africa and was made using the ‘lost wax’ method – exactly the same technique used to create the original Benin bronzes. From the 15th Century onwards, the famous Benin sculptures have been created using the ‘lost wax’ casting method; a technique that produces one-of-a-kind pieces. As most items are at least partially hollow, a central core of clay and charcoal is first produced. This core is then covered in wax and the sculptor carves into the wax to create his artwork. The wax carving is covered in fine clay powder and dampened. Once the first layer is dry, additional layers of coarser clay are applied until the full mould exists. (Small wax pipelines are left in place to allow the wax to escape.) The clay mould is allowed to dry and is then fired – causing the wax to melt and leaving a solid, hollow mould into which molten metal is poured. Once cool, the mould is broken open to reveal the finished sculpture.
Size: 440mm (length from nose to tail) x 110mm wide x 440mm high.
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