Lot 38
  • 38

A superb Kuba mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo

20,000 - 30,000 USD
bidding is closed


mukyeem, the helmet masks with an arching finial at the crown, the whole elaborately decorated with cloth, cowrie shells (cyprea moneta), fiber, glass beads, and domestic goat (capra hircus) hair; aged surface.


Eliot Elisofon, New York


Center for African Art, New York, Sets, Series and Ensembles in African Art, July 25, 1985 - October 20, 1985
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture, November 19, 2002 - April 13, 2003


George Nelson Preston, Sets, Series and Ensembles in African Art, Center for African Art, New York, 1985, p. 64, cat. 63
Grace Glueck, "The Wonders of African Art Explored in Two Exhibitions," The New York Times, July 19, 1985, p. C25
Warren Robbins and Nancy Nooter, African Art in American Collections, Washington, 1989, p. 422, fig. 1071
Alisa LaGamma, Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture, New York, 2002, p. 39, cat. 10

Catalogue Note

In her discussion of the Rosenthal Kuba Mask at the occasion of the exhibition Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, LaGamma (2002: 40) explains: The first man on earth and primordial ancestor of all Kuba people, Woot, "is memorialized in a lavishly appointed masquerade that is the prerogative of kings. His persona is invoked to emphasize the continuous lineage that descends from him to the founder of royal lines to contemporary leaders. This particular mask, known as mukyeem or mukyeeng, is unique to the southern Kuba area but closely resembles a related Bushong version known as mwaash aMbooy. Both genres represent Woot; the mukyeem is distinguishable by the elephant trunk form on the top. [...] 

"The imagery of mukyeem and mwaash aMbooy royal masks are said to represent simultaneously Woot, the king, and nature spirits, underscoring the relationship between these forces and Kuba leadership. Mukyeem depict the ruler with the attributes of an elephant because it is an animal of great size and strength, highly prized for its valuable ivory. Such masks were often strongly identified with a specific leader, given personalized names, and guarded at the palace as property of the king. When a mask was new, it was performed first by the king himself; afterward it could be lent to others. Sometimes, at the end of a leader's life, the mask was buried with him."