Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Vessel: Head

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sankuru River region
Kuba peoples
H. 7 3/4 x W. 4 5/8 x D. 4 15/16 in. (19.7 x 11.7 x 12.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1966
Accession Number:
1978.412.534a, b
Not on view
The Sankuru River marks the border between the Dengese and their powerful southern neighbors, the Kuba. The Kuba kingdom, founded in the early seventeenth century, unites several ethnic groups into an intricate yet efficient bureaucracy, coupling military strength with strict control of agricultural production, trade, and taxation. Except for that of the king, who is considered divine, titles in the Kuba government are awarded rather than inherited, and there is intense competition for positions of power.
Ambitious and status-conscious Kuba officials require splendid sumptuous articles as visible signs of their wealth and rank. Highly specialized artists--carvers, smiths, weavers, embroiderers, leather workers, jewelers, even hat and pipe makers--supply their needs. Kuba art consists mostly of such useful objects as cups for drinking palm wine, boxes for storing cosmetics and valuables, pipes, and spoons--all of which are elaborated beyond mere function by their sophisticated forms and lavish decoration. Except for portraits of kings, figural sculpture is rare; instead, cups are made in human form, frequently bearing the ornate hairstyles and shaved hairlines worn by titled Kuba officials. The intricate geometric patterns that cover the surfaces of Kuba sculpture are borrowed from the motifs embroidered on luxurious velvet raffia cloths.
Clark and Frances Stillman, New York, until 1966; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1966–1978

Vansina, Jan. La Royaume Kuba. Tervuren: Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1964.

Vansina, Jan. The Children of Woot. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Cornet, Joseph. Art Royal Kuba. Milan: Edizioni Sipiel, 1982.

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