Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid

19th century (?)
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lovoi River region
Luba peoples, Shankadi group
Wood, glass beads
H. 23 1/4 x W. 11 x D. 10 7/8 in. (59.1 x 27.9 x 27.6 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
The Luba peoples occupy a land of rivers and savanna in the southeast of what is today The Democratic Republic of the 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.

This ornate and impressive seat of leadership belonged to a Luba chief. 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. This particular caryatid displays filed teeth, a practice of beautification thought to render spoken language more "sweet" by weaving words and sentences into utterances of admirable clarity and beauty.

Blue and white beads such as those that embellish this caryatid are worn by important members of the court and provide spiritual protection for their owners. Here, the beads emphasize the caryatid's high social status and shield both the king and the stool itself from supernatural harm.
Joseph Corneille (José) Van den Boogaerde, Brussels, until 1950; [Charles Ratton, Paris, 1950–1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

Museum of Primitive Art. Traditional Art of the African Nations in the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: University Publishers, Inc., 1961, no. 73.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 429.

DeMaret, P., N. Dery, and C. Murdoch. "The Luba Shankadi Style." African Arts vol. 7, no. 1 (Autumn 1973).

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 157.

Vogel, Susan M. "The Buli Master, and Other Hands." Art in America vol. 68, no. 5 (1980).

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.

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