Cameroon bronze twin leopards
Detail: Two Bronze Leopard with long tails
Cameroon bronze twin leopards. Items cast in bronze were created to enhance the prestige of the king and royal family. Leopards, captive and tamed were heavily associated with royalty in Africa. Leopards paraded along side the king. The king appears usually once a year in public, on horseback, covered with royal ornaments. Tame leopards are led on chains. Leopards were characterized as being most powerful and fierce, being restrained only by a more powerful king. Only the king and his hunters were entitled to hunt and kill leopards and then only for sacrificial purposes. Leopards are also said to be the guardians of the Queen Mother.
The virtuosity of copper-alloy castings, their technical perfection and artistic achievement afford evidence of the rich and multifarious artistic tradition of the peoples of West Africa. Starting from the earliest, 9th century castings by the difficult “cire perdue” technique found at Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria, to the famous Benin bronzes whose earliest pieces date from late 15th century, and the copper-alloy castings of the peoples of Cameroon, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and other countries, the bronze sculpture of Africa includes pieces of the highest artistic value. Judging by the surviving pieces, copper-alloy casting was not an art necessarily related only to cult practices. Examples are the cocks and roosters among the pieces found in Benin. They were often works without any practical, didactic or cult use; they were made, simply, as works of art. And as is the case in other parts of the world also, most often these pieces in expensive bronze belonged to the upper class, to kings and other persons in high social and materially privileged positions.
These pieces are most often animals (such as the lion, leopard, cock, crocodile, antelope, bull, and birds) or the human figure typically with such objects as a gun, basket, pipe and the like. The sculpture of Ife, the religious and early political capital of the Yoruba (11th to 15th century) is particularly outstanding for the realistic representations of the human head, many of them life size.