Mbete sculptors developed a figurative reliquary form that fully integrated ancestral sacra within the sculpture. In this tradition, a hollowed columnar torso served as an internal receptacle. That core is framed by the gesture of minimally defined arms held to either side and supported below by knees bent above broad muscular calves. The tensed posture of the figures suggests their role as active guardian to the reliquary's contents. Access to the contents was afforded through a dorsal aperture.
The scheme of black, white, and red pigments applied to the surface of this work and culturally related wood sculptures from the Lower Congo region constitutes a coherent system of color symbolism drawn upon for rites of passage. Black was widely drawn upon in connection with death, burial, and mourning. The ancestral realm is characterized as white, and it is most dominantly manifested in rites relating to vision and heightened awareness such as initiations. Red pomade, a regional cosmetic, was sometimes rubbed on the bodies of the deceased and applied to their insignia to invest them with renewed influence and agency. Reliquary: Standing Female Figure
Kota peoples, Mbete group; Republic of Congo, 19th century
Wood, pigments, buttons, fiber, beads; H. 27 9/16 in. (70 cm)
Private collection (formerly Collection of André Fourquet, Paris)
Ex colls.: Aristide Courtois, French colonial administrator in Middle Congo 1910–1941; Charles Ratton, Paris; Louis Marcoussis, Paris; Jean Roudillon and Olivier Le Corneur (Galerie Le Corneur-Roudillon), Paris; André Fourquet, Paris