Plaque of a "Leopard Hunt" with Portuguese Hunters

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Master of the Leopard Hunt (active 16th/17th century)
Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Plaque of a "Leopard Hunt" with Portuguese Hunters, 16th century

55 x 39 cm (21 5/8 x 15 3/8 in.)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, III C 27485

This remarkable plaque is one of several works that were made by an Edo brass caster who experimented with a more narrative compositional style. This plaque’s theme is not entirely clear. It would have been extremely unusual for the Portuguese to hunt leopards, given the cat’s powerful association with the oba and the restrictions on its killing. The cats featured on this plaque are fabulous composite creatures with leopard spots, three-pronged tails, and tufts of fur at their necks. It is possible that a European aquamanile—a decorative vessel for pouring water—in the form of a fantastic lionlike creature inspired this imagery.