Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid, Wood, beads, Luba or Hemba peoples

Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Luba or Hemba peoples
Wood, beads
H. 17 1/8 x W. 9 1/4 in. (43.5 x 23.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Raymond E. Britt Sr., 1977
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Luba peoples occupy a land of rivers and savanna in the southeast of what is today Democratic Republic of Congo. As early as the seventeenth century, Luba society consisted of an extensive, centrally organized state structured on the principles of divine kingship and rule by council.

Luba leaders trace their ancestry to a dynasty of sacred kings, and Luba royal seats are intended to replicate an original seat of office owned by the progenitor of this divine lineage. Such works associate their owner with the source of his legitimacy.

Despite their functional form, royal stools are never used for sitting but, rather, are sacred insignia preserved within a king's palace. They serve as metaphorical, not literal, seats of kingship. The design of Luba seats of leadership may either be abstract or figurative. Those incorporating female caryatids give expression to the Luba conception of the female body as a spiritual receptacle that supports divine kingship. The aesthetic refinement of the female body through elaborate skin ornamentation and coiffure serves as a metaphor for the civilization and refinement that Luba rulers disseminate within society.
Raymond Britt Sr., Florida and Illinois, until 1977

Flam, Jack D. "Symbolic structure of Baluba caryatid stools." African Arts vol. 4, no. 2 (1970).

Neyt, François. Luba: To the Sources of the Zaire. Paris: Musée Dapper, 1994.

Roberts, Allen F., and Mary Nooter Roberts, eds. Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History. New York: Museum for African Art, New York, 1996.