Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Knife: Head (Namambele)

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mangbetu peoples
Iron, wood
H. 11 x W. 2 in. (27.9 x 5.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of James J. Ross, 2011
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
The art of the northern savanna is associated with the sumptuous royal courts of the Mangbetu peoples. At its height, the second half of the nineteenth century, Mangbetu aristocrats surrounded themselves with a wide variety of finely crafted boxes, jars, stools, pipes, musical instruments and weapons. This distinctive tradition of anthropomorphic sculpture developed around 1900. Although such forms predate the colonial presence, European patrons greatly increased the demand for them.
"Namambele" knives such as this example were worn at the belt, on the right side and were considered a mark of distinction. They were the sole property of the Mangbetu ruling aristocracy. In this example, the head is surmounted by the characteristic fan-shaped coiffure which identifies it as the head of a woman.
Russell B. Aitkin, New York, until (d.) 2002; (Christie's New York, April 3, 2003, no. 198); James J. Ross, New York, 2003–2011

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