Documentation: : Correspondence relating to purchase in RDF; Accession book entry: : 'Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, purchased on behalf of the P.R.M. by W. B. Fagg (see corresp. in the file [i.e. RDF]). The girdle mask was formerly in Pitt-Rivers Museum in Farnham, [The following text is struck through]Surrey[End of struck through text] Dorset, and was sent with a number of others to New York with instructions (I am informed) not to disclose the source. [Signed] B. E. B. Fagg. Brass girdle mask representing the head of a leopard, the spots being illustrated by riveted copper studs. Purchased between 1897 and 1900 by General Pitt-Rivers and kept until early in 1965 (?) in the Farnham Museum. (13.6 cms.).
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?]
Archaological / Ethnographic
Archival documentation ID
Class: Status; Class: Mask; Class: Ritual and Ceremonial