Date: 16th–19th century
Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo
Culture: Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom
Medium: Partially hollow cast brass
Dimensions: H. 4 in. (10.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Ernst Anspach, 1999
Accession Number: 1999.295.1
The Kongo kingdom, an immensely powerful state spanning parts of present-day Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and the Congo Republic, adopted Christianity as its state religion in the fifteenth century. By the end of the seventeenth century, the kingdom had largely disintegrated in the face of devastating social and political upheavals. The resulting chaos bred a number of popular movements that looked to Christianity for a spiritual solution to the kingdom's problems.
One of these movements, called Antonianism, was launched in 1704 by a Kongo visionary called Dona Beatriz, or Kimpa Vita. Dona Beatriz advocated a more thorough Africanization of the Catholic church and claimed that through direct contact with heaven she had observed the Holy Family to be Kongo. Ultimately found guilty of heresy by both the local nobility and the church, Dona Beatriz was burned at the stake.
The primary emblem of this movement was Saint Anthony of Padua, a saint associated with the protection of children and mothers and conceived as the source of Kongo salvation. Known as Toni Malau, or "Anthony of Good Fortune," his image appeared on religious insignia kept by his followers for protection against ill health and other problems. This small pendant, cast from brass, depicts Saint Anthony with tonsured head wearing a monk's habit and knotted rope belt. He carries a cross in his right hand while in his left he supports an open book, upon which the Christ Child stands clutching a goldfinch foreshadowing the Crucifixion.