Cross: Saint Anthony of Padua

Date: Pendant figure, 16th–18th century; cross, 19th century

Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo

Culture: Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom

Medium: Solid cast brass, lead-tin alloy sheet, wood

Dimensions: H. 12 3/4 in. (32.4 cm), W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm), D. 1 in. (2.5 cm)

Classification: Metal-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Ernst Anspach, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.295.14


Crosses, crucifixes, and other Christian emblems had been created in Central Africa since as early as the late fifteenth century, when Christianity was widely adopted within the Kongo kingdom. A powerful and wealthy state that at its height spanned portions of modern-day Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and the Congo Republic, the Kongo kingdom had largely disintegrated by the late seventeenth century. Insignia depicting Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese-born saint associated with the protection of children and mothers, relate to this period of internal conflict and political dissolution.

In 1704, a Kongo visionary known as Dona Beatriz, or Kimpa Vita, launched Antonianism, a movement that called for the reform of the local church as a means of reconstituting the Kongo state. Saint Anthony, known as Toni Malau, or "Anthony of Good Fortune," was the adopted patron of the movement, and his image was widely incorporated into religious objects and personal items designed to protect and inspire. Here, a cast brass figure of Saint Anthony has been embedded in the wooden framework of a cross. The presence of a loop between the saint's shoulder blades, coupled with its diminutive size, suggests that the work was originally intended to be worn as a personal pendant. Saint Anthony is portrayed wearing a monk's habit and knotted cord belt, holding the Christ Child and the cross in his hands.

Scholars have emphasized that the Christian cross was easily integrated into Kongo religious practices, as the cross had been a powerful indigenous emblem of spirituality prior to contact with the West. According to the Kongo conception of human experience, the cross is at once a metaphor for the cosmos and a diagram for the trajectory of a human life as it traverses the realms of the living and the dead. In this example, the overall form is reiterated by the three Maltese crosses of inlaid metal displayed on the arms and base.