Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Seated Figure (Tumba)

19th–20th century
Angola or Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bamboma village
Kongo peoples
H. 16 1/4 x W. 8 5/8 x D. 5 1/8 in. (41.3 x 21.9 x 13 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1968
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
Carved stone figures were created to memorialize deceased rulers of the Bambona, one of a number of peoples who together constitute the Kongo culture. According to Kongo belief, graves are zones of contact between the living and the dead, and personal items belonging to the deceased were arrayed on the gravesite in complex compositions that evoked their memory and facilitated communication with them. Burial sites of highly respected individuals included idealized commemorative portraits known as bitumba (sing. tumba), carved from wood or, among the Bambona, stone. The refinement of these sculptures reflected the immense respect accorded to the individuals they depicted, while their durability permitted them to be admired and contemplated for generations.

This tumba illustrates the dual virtues of the physical and cerebral celebrated within Kongo culture. The strong features, fleshy face, and imposing upper body are those of a handsome and healthy individual, while the cross-legged posture, called funda nkata, is associated with pensive leaders who place thought above action. On his head, a royal cap decorated with four leopard claws not only associates the ruler with the strength and cunning of this wild animal but also evokes the four cardinal points of Kongo cosmology. By essentially wearing the world in miniature, he indicates his understanding of the Kongo worldview and his place within it. Bent head and lowered eyes suggest sadness or reflection, and indeed the placement of head in hand is a Kongo sign of mourning. In this context, the gesture can be read as kyaadi ya bantu yina me bikana, the "mourning for those left behind" felt by a deceased leader who desires to assist and protect his people, even in the afterlife.
Collected in a Bamboma center of the Lower-Congo or Northern Angola, by Robert Verly, Belgium, by ca.1949; Clark and Frances Stillman, New York, until 1968; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1968–1978

Thompson, Robert Farris, and Joseph Cornet. Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1981.

Related Objects

Seated Figure (Tumba)

Artist: Date: 19th–20th century
Accession Number: 1978.412.573
Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Steatite Accession: 1978.412.573 On view in:Gallery 352

Seated female

Artist: Date: ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C.
Accession Number: 1989.281.41a, b
Date: ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C. Medium: Steatite or chlorite, alabaster Accession: 1989.281.41a, b On view in:Gallery 403

Seated Chief Playing Thumb Piano (Mwanangana)

Artist: Date: before 1869
Accession Number: 1988.157
Date: before 1869 Medium: Wood (Uapaca), cloth, fiber, beads Accession: 1988.157 On view in:Gallery 352


Artist: Date: 16th–20th century
Accession Number: 1979.541.1
Date: 16th–20th century Medium: Wood, sacrificial materials Accession: 1979.541.1 On view in:Gallery 350

Rider Figure on Quadruped

Artist: Date: 16th–19th century
Accession Number: 1978.412.487
Date: 16th–19th century Medium: Wood (Canarium, Burseracea wood), encrustation Accession: 1978.412.487 On view in:Gallery 350