31
31
BEMBE MALE RELIQUARY FIGURE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Estimate
150,000250,000
LOT SOLD. 722,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
31
BEMBE MALE RELIQUARY FIGURE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Estimate
150,000250,000
LOT SOLD. 722,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The Robert Rubin Collection of African Art

|
New York

BEMBE MALE RELIQUARY FIGURE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
muzidi, the eyes made of porcelain shards (misidentified in Lagamma 2007 as ivory).
Height: 23 in (58.4 cm)
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Provenance

Collected by a French citizen in the Congo in the 1940s
Jean-Louis Forain and Daniel Hourdé, Paris, by 1977, acquired from the above
Merton D. Simpson, New York, acquired from the above
S. Thomas Alexander III, Saint Louis, acquired from the above
Alan Liebermann, Saint Louis, acquired from the above on October 24, 1979
S. Thomas Alexander III, Saint Louis, acquired from the above
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired from the above on April 11, 1986

Exhibited

National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Icons: Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa, October 25, 1989 - September 3, 1990
Museum for African Art, New York, Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals, February 13 - August 22, 1993; additional venues:
The Bermuda National Gallery, Hamilton, October - December, 1993
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, February - April, 1994
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, May - September, 1994
The Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, January - March, 1995
Museum for African Art, New York, Material Differences, Art and Identity in Africa, April 10 - October 6, 2003; additional venues:
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, September 17, 2004 - January 2, 2005
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, April 2 - June 19, 2005
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Eternal Ancestors. The Art of the Central African Reliquary, October 2, 2007 - March 2, 2008
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, Life Objects: Rites of Passage in African Art, September 12, 2009 - January 24, 2010

Literature

Arts d'Afrique Noire, no. 22, 1977, p. 31 (advertisment)
John McKesson, "La Collection de Robert Rubin", Arts d'Afrique Noire, no. 71, Autumn 1989, p.11
Warren M. Robbins and Nancy I. Nooter, African Art in American Collections, New York, 1989, p. 376, fig. 963
Herbert M. Cole, Icons : ideals and power in the art of Africa, Washington, 1989, p. 151, no. 177
Mary H. Nooter, Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals, New York, 1993, p. 62, cat. 26
Frank Herreman, Material Differences: Art and Identity in Africa,  New York, 2003, p. 152, cat. 120
Alisa Lagamma (ed.), Eternal Ancestors: the Art of the Central African Reliquary, New York, 2007, p. 311, cat. 116
Princeton University Art Museum Magazine, Winter 2010, p. 7

Catalogue Note

The Bembe live in the Western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and are organized in clans. In pre-colonial times, the cult of the clan ancestors was at the center of Bembe spiritual life. Reliquary figures were composed of a cane armature wrapped in dried Banana leaves and other fibers and covered with textiles. The textiles were precious commodities which had to be obtained through trade with Westerners.

In her discussion of the Rubin muzidi Figure at the occasion of the exhibition Eternal Ancestors. The Art of the Central African Reliquary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, LaGamma (2007: 310) notes: "The spirits of the dead, minkuyu, remained influential members of the extended family in Bembe society. This was reflected in the fact that when a diviner investigated the source of a misfortune, he might interpret it as a sign that an ancestor of the clan required greater consideration [... in the form of] a more fitting burial site, such as that afforded by being enshrined within a commemorative [cloth figure, muzidi, to which relics were transferred from the exhumed body]. This may take place a year after the first burial. [...] Beyond honoring a particular ancestor with a mere image, the muzidi was itself clearly a sacred receptacle that housed traces of the ancestor's physical being in the form of the relics. While Efraim Anderson refers to these as bones, Paul Timmermans suggests that hair, nails and skin from the body of the deceased also served this function.

"Bembe ancestral devotion was directed to textile reliquary figures and to [the far more common] wooden ancestral sculpture. This animated seated figure [= the Rubin muzidi figure] combines both those media. Crowned with a pith helmet and extended at the base of the chin by a prominent beard, the head is carved from wood and has inlaid ivory [incorrect, in fact porcelain] eyes. The European colonial headgear identifies the subject as a distinguished individual, whose age and wisdom are indicated by the beard. Aside from this passage, however, the representation is defined by soft sculpture. The animated arms and legs are extravagantly outstretched, so that they extend horizontally from the narrow vertical torso and terminate in dramatically exagerated hands and feet. These elements are wrapped in two different varieties of European patterned trade clothes. [...] Although the prints paired in this composition share a red palette, plaid calico defines the vertical axis of the torso while the limbs are arrayed in a lively floral pattern. Red tones were preferred for ceremonial dress, given their identification of vitality. This quality was complemented by the expansiveness of the figure's stance and the suppleness of the body. Robert Farris Thompson has identified the stiff seated posture of legs positioned parallel to and in front of the body as sendama, or sitting in pure repose."

For a figure by the same hand from the collection of the German artist Georg Baselitz, also featuring a combination of cloth body and wooden head, cf. Stepan (2003: pl. 16).

The Robert Rubin Collection of African Art

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New York