Benin Bronze Leopards come in different styles and forms. There are leopard bronzes with bodies enchased or decorated with spots represented by flat rings in relief. On these Benin bronze leopards, you can see how the Benin artists carefully repeat the flat rings motif throughout the work. You will also find on some of these Benin Bronze leopards, flat rings that are mildly indented. Although in some depictions of the leopard, these flat rings ( series of indents punched in a circle ) are somewhat of high relief ( with forms extending slightly from the background ) and are more delicately punctuated by the Benin artist to accentuate not only the leopard’s spots but to somewhat express some stylistic distinctiveness. This is usually typical of centenary Benin bronze leopards, which are shown below.
This realistic or naturalistic representation of the leopard attest to the fact that the Benin sculptors of earlier times were no stranger to their subject, the leopard. Their familiarity with the leopard can be seen in the well-observed details of the Benin bronze leopard. Such as , the firmness with which its thickset claws clench the ground; the menacing jaws; the piercing eyes and alert ears; spotted furs and the rather elongated tail which is made to support the back of its column. During the old days, it is said that the Oba actually kept tamed wild leopards at his court and assigned special gamekeepers to take care of them. The leopard imagery was to demonstrate the superhuman quality of the Oba, who was equally regarded as the “sky king” Or “Ogiso” by his subjects.
The Benin artists rate the leopard highly. Not simply on account of its ornamental values but because it serves as a symbolic work of art. The leopard has a symbolic association with the Benin royalty by virtue of its qualities of bravery, intelligence, fearlessness, power and gracefulness. Hence, the Oba of Benin is figuratively referred to as the “ the leopard of the house” .