Lot 115
  • 115

Chokwe Bird Mask, Angola

70,000 - 100,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 12 3/4 inches (32.4 cm)


Reportedly collected in situ before 1939
Carlo Monzino, Castagnola
Important European Private Collection, by descent from the above


The Center for African Art, New York, African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzino Collection, May 7 - September 7, 1986


Susan M. Vogel, African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzino Collection, New York, 1986, pp. 182 and 218, cat. 131

Catalogue Note

Starting in 1958 and over the next three decades, Carlo Monzino (March 14, 1931 - October 8, 1996) formed an outstanding collection of Modern painting and African sculpture which is revered to this day as one of the best of its kind ever assembled. In the early 1960s, Monzino managed to acquire a large group of works from the estate of British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, an artist from the circle of Picasso, Matisse and Moore, including the iconic group of Fang reliquary statues which is today in the Musée Dapper. A true connoisseur, Monzino gravitated to visually provocative works of the highest artistic quality for which the offered lot is a magnificent example.

According to Marie-Louise Bastin (letter dated November 20, 1981, on file with Sotheby's), the offered lot is one of only three Chokwe masks known to represent the bird spirit kapukulu. The other two masks are: one collected by Dr. A. de Barros Machado for the Museu do Dundo, Angola, and a second in the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva which was exhibited in William Rubin's seminal 1984 exhibition "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Rubin 1984: 364) and sold at Sotheby's, New York, May 19, 2000, lot 277.

In her discussion of the offered lot at the occasion of the exhibition African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzino Collection at The Center for African Art, New York, Vogel (1986: 182) comments: "Its gaze impenetrable and indefinite, this mask communicates the essence of a bird's head without reference to specific features. Bastin (1981) has identified it as khanga, a guinea fowl that for the Chokwe symbolizes fecundity. She reports that masks of this type, along with human and animal masks, such as those representing pigs and baboons, appear in traditional Chokwe festivals that are part of a magico-religious complex intended to promote the harmony and well-being of the community. A bird spirit is also honored by the Chokwe to increase the fruitfulness of women, and the success of the hunt. The almost brazen simplicity of this mask is remarkably effective. [...] The double rim, suggesting a hooded, mysterious covering, must be imagined as it looked when the mask was worn, for the wearer's eyes were surely visible in these large openings."