Male figure

image for Male figure
Label Text
The Fon peoples of the former Kingdom of Dahomey (modern Republic of Benin) built an empire controlled by an absolute monarch. They developed rich oral and visual art traditions, with major art objects commissioned by royalty. European travelers have cited the fashioning of prestige works in metal by Fon craftsmen since the 18th century.
This silver figure of a man riding a lion is an elegant example of Fon metalwork and displays conventions associated with the finest Fon art. The threatening lion with its outstretched tongue, curled tail and turned head is similar to depictions on Fon altars (asen), bas reliefs and appliqué banners. The elongated forms and animated, naturalistic poses of the figures are characteristic of Fon work. The use of sheet, rather than cast, metal follows older Fon conventions.
The figure represents Oudji, "king" of Porto Novo, who reigned from 1913 to 1929 and was a grandson of King Toffa (reigned 1874-1908). In fact, Oudji was called a paramount chief because the French colonial administration had abolished the traditional title of king after Toffa's death. Oudji holds a plate engraved with his own name and that of Charles Noufflard, French governor of Dahomey from c. 1912-1913 to c. 1917-1919. The figure was almost certainly commissioned by Oudji himself as a gift to Noufflard. Oudji's power to rule is expressed metaphorically by his mount, the king of the beasts the lion. In Dahomean art, the lion is also the personal symbol of King Glele (reigned 1858-1889). According to historical records, Oudji's grandfather, King Toffa, in part owed his rise to power to Glele. As king, Oudji controlled his kingdom's wealth, represented by the purse hanging at his side.
Male figure in European dress riding a lion with a curving tail and sideways turned head. The man holds a rectangular plaque with an inscription and wears a seperate bag over his shoulder.
Charles Noufflard, ca. 1913-1917 to 1966
Hélène and Philippe Leloup, New York, -- to 1995
Exhibition History
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
Animals in African Art, Museum for African Art, Long Island City, NY, May 31, 1995-January 15, 1996
Published References
"Art Primitif." 1966. Hotel Drouot, Room 6. Auction catalogue (November 21), pl. II, no. 60.
Blandin, André. 1988. Afrique de l'Ouest: bronzes et autres alliages. Marignane, France: Blandin, p. 283.
Cole, Herbert M. 1989. Icons: Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa. Washington, D.C.: Published for the National Museum of African Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 154, no. 182.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 61.
Roberts, Allen F. 1995. Animals in African Art. Munich: Prestel; New York: Museum for African Art, p. 180, no. 140.
Credit Line
Museum purchase
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
ca. 1913-1917
Object number
Fon artist
Porto Novo, Benin
H x W x D: 19 x 18 x 6.5 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/16 x 2 9/16 in.)
National Museum of African Art