Leopard Aquamanile, Bronze, Benin Culture, Africa, XVIIc; covered with incised spots and smnall punch marks. Rare example.

Water pitcher, 18th century

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This specially shaped vessel, called an aquamanile (from the Latin for “water” and “hand”), was used by kings, or obas, of the Benin Kingdom during hand-washing ceremonies. It was filled at the top of the head, its tail acted as a handle, and water was poured from its two nostrils. The leopard was an important symbol of the oba, embodying ferocity, intelligence, agility, and speed. The balanced posture indicates strength, while the perked ears and bared fangs show awareness and aggression—traits the king was expected to have. Animal-shaped aquamaniles were introduced between 900 and 1200 from the Islamic world to Europe, and brought to the Benin peoples by Portuguese traders who came by sea. In Benin belief, the mid-fifteenth-century king Ewuare the Great is credited with gathering aquamanile vessels from the underwater palace of Olokun, the god of the sea.

Details
Title
Water pitcher
Role
Artist
Accession Number
58.9
Provenance
[…?]; By 1898: Gift, with its identical pendant, of Consul E. Schmidt to Emperor Wilhelm II Of Germany; Date unknown: Gift of the pair of pitchers by Wilhelm II to his personal doctor, Dr. Gerhard Merx; 1952: Sale of the pair to the Museum of Völkerkunde (now Museum Fünf Kontinente), Munich by dealer Ludwig Brettschneider, Munich; 1956: Deaccessioning of one pitcher by the Munich Museum; Fall of 1957: Sold by dealer Ernst Kofler, Luzern to Mia
Curator Approved

This record is from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator, so may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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Leopard Aquamanile, Bronze, Benin Culture, Africa, XVIIc; covered with incised spots and smnall punch marks. Rare example.