1965.9.1 B

Small brass mask representing a leopard's head, with leather strap. [JC 24 2 2000]

Place details: W AFRICA. Nigeria / Benin City. Cultural Group: Edo: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Brass Metal / Copper Metal / Animal Leather Skin / ?. Processes: Lost Wax Cast / Riveted / ?. Dimensions: Max H = 136 mm Field Collector: Benin City Punitive Expedition When Collected: 1897 ? Other Owners: William Downing Webster Auction House [Purchase] May 1898; Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers Farnham Museum 1898 and on. PRM Source: Parke-Bernet Galleries via William Buller Fagg Acquired: Purchased 1965

KEYWORD: Ceremonial Object / Mask / Status Object / CLASS: Status / Mask / Ritual and Ceremonial / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: Listed as no 0/34 on page 2.1.1 of An Illustrated Catalogue of Benin Art, by Philip J.C. Dark (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1982) [JC]

Illustrated in black and white as figures 62 (frontal) and 63 (left three-quarters profile) (in plate X) on page 20 of Antique Works of Art from Benin, West Africa Collected by Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers (no place, printed privately, 1900) (caption on page 20 reads: ‘Leopard's head in brass, the spots and pupils of eyes in copper. This appears to have been attached with a leather thong to the dress.’).’ [JC 10 9 1999]

Listed as number 69 on page 10 of Art from the Guinea Coast (Pitt Rivers Museum, Illustrated Catalogue No. 1), Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum (1965): 'NIGERIA Midwest Region ... 69. Brass girdle mask representing a leopard's head with the spots illustrated by rivetted copper studs. Benin City (1965.9.B1.) (13.6 cm)'. Also illustrated in black and white in unnumbered plate XX. (For details of exhibition, see under 'Display History'.) [JC 12 9 2013]

Illustrated in black and white as figure 8 on page 10 of Symbols of Kings: Benin Art at the Pitt Rivers Museum, by Linda Mowat (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1991). [JC 10 9 1999]

Illustrated in black and white on page 10 of General Pitt Rivers: The Father of Scientific Archaeology, by Mark Bowden (Salisbury: Salisbury and South Wilts Museum, 1984). [JC 10 9 1999]

Illustrated in black and white on page 3 of The Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum Newsletter, no. 36 (April 2001), where it illustrates 'Pitt Rivers' Other Life', by Alison Petch. [JC 13 8 2002]

This object was featured in the Museum's on-line fact sheet ‘Court Art of Benin' produced during the DCF-funded 'What's Upstairs?' project, 2004–2006. [BR 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 8/11/2005]

Research notes: Illustrated and described on page 1,642 in volume 2 of the manuscript catalogue of General Pitt-Rivers's 'second' collection, held in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives at Cambridge University Library (MSS Add.9455): 'Date: 1898 May 11 / Drawing and Description of object: Bt of Webster ... Leopard’s Head in Brass, the spots and pupils of eyes in copper. This appears to have been attached with a leather thong to the dress Benin [Drawing annotated 1/2] / Added: Catalogue p. 20 figs 62 & 63 / Added: P.20 / Price: £5.5 / Deposited at: Museum 1898 / Removed to: Room VII case 74 [in red].' NB This description and drawing [see RDF] follow after a large number of other descriptions and drawings of other Benin objects obtained from several different sources, e.g. Ling Roth 32 Prescot St Halifax. The drawing in the manuscript catalogue is exact. [AP, undated; AP 22/03/2010; JC 12 9 2013]

The mask formed part of the collection of General Pitt Rivers in the Museum at Farnham Dorset. He would have acquired it between 1897 (when Benin was sacked by the British Punitive Expedition) and 1900 (when he published it, see below). It was offered for sale at the Parke-Benet Galleries and bought for $850 (then £304. 11s. 10d) by William Fagg on behalf of the PRM. [?]

The leopard is the 'King of the Bush' in Benin cosmology; the counterpart of the Oba who is 'King of the Home'. The leopard is compared to the Oba in terms of its success as a predator, its distinctive markings and its qualities of restraint and moderation. It is therefore seen as a symbol of royal power. Sacrificing a leopard to the Oba's head ensures the well-being of the kingdom and reaffirms the Oba's sole right to take human life. Leopard teeth and skins were believed to give spiritual protection to warriors. Masks like this were symbols of leadership in Benin. Leopard masks could only be worn by Oba and select people. [LM?]