Luba Royal Neckrest, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Height: 7 3/8 in (18.7 cm)
Elfriede Konietzko, Hamburg, by descent from the above
Mia and Loed van Bussel, Amsterdam, acquired from the above
Jutheau - de Witt, Paris, Collection van Bussel, June 25, 1996, lot 22
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired at the above auction
Hamline University Art Galleries, Saint Paul, Icons of Perfection: Figurative Sculpture from Africa, December 2, 2005 – February 11, 2006
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, extended loan, November 5, 2013 - January 28, 2014
Raoul Lehuard, "Les Ventes", Arts d'Afrique Noire, No. 99, Autumn 1996, p. 61
Frank Herreman, Icons of Perfection: Figurative Sculpture from Africa, Saint Paul, 2006, p. 53, cat. 36
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
In addition to their practical function, neckrests played a spiritual role as reservoirs for spirits who would communicate with humans at night through dreams. Schweizer (2014: 212) notes: “According to Luba religious belief, only a woman’s body was strong enough to contain a spirit as powerful as a king’s. As a result, figurative sculpture dedicated to kingship is almost always female in gender. [… The] nature-given beauty of her body is complemented by the (man-made) scarification marks on her abdomen. This combination of natural and man-made beauty corresponds to the Chiluba term bwimpe: physical perfection as sign of moral integrity. The closer the female body was to bwimpe, the more inviting it was to spiritual forces.” And Schweizer (loc. cit.: 217) continues: “The relationship between neckrest and owner was sometimes so intimate that the former were buried with the deceased. Reportedly, during the war with the Yeke at the end of the nineteenth century, the Yeke burned all of their enemies’ neckrests while leaving other objects unharmed.”
While the superb quality and iconography of the Kunin neckrest suggest its royal provenance, its rich oil patina attests to repeated offerings of palm oil. Referring to a royal bowstand, Schweizer (loc. cit.: 212) explains: “Royal regalia […] were stored in the king’s treasury [… The bowstands] were thoroughly guarded by a female dignitary called the kyabuta, received regular offerings of palm oil, and were also included in ritual performances held in a special shrine house that contained relics of past rulers and served as home to their spirits. The ensemble of bow stand, bow, and arrows thus became directly exposed to the royal spirits, and by extension embodied their transcendental presence.”