MANGBETU HARP, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
- antelope, wood
- Length: 28 in (71.1 cm)
Wright Family, New Mexico, reportdely by the 1930s
Michael Wright, Santa Fe, by descent
Tayler Dale, Santa Fe, acquired from the above
Drs. Nicole and John Dintenfass, New York, acquired from the above, ca. 1990
As LaGamma (2006) notes, "Mangbetu aristocrats surrounded themselves with a wide variety of finely crafted utilitarian objects such as boxes, jars, stools, musical instruments, and weapons, many of which feature figurative elements. The designs of musical instruments are especially beautiful examples of the ingenious amalgamation of a functional artifact and the human form. [...]
"The resonators come in two forms, the hourglass shape seen here or an oval shape, and usually feature two small sounding holes on the top surface. A variety of animal skins were used to cover the resonator, including pangolin scales, okapi and leopard pelts, and snake and lizard skins [or, as in the offered lot, bohor reedbuck antelope (Redunca redunca) skin ...]. Mangbetu harps have been studied in depth as art objects; their musical use, however, remains largely unexplored. Although they appear in historical photographs from the region, these rarely show the harp being played. As the Mangbetu enthusiasm for carving continued and harps became increasingly figurative, the ability to appropriately string and tune the instruments became increasingly difficult. Before long, the importance of the harp as a musical instrument was replaced by its importance as an art object."
The present lot is distinguised by the delicate features of the face, including narrow, barely open eyes and a mouth echoing the shape and form of the eyes. The elongated back of the head is a rather naturalistic representation of the Mangbetu practice of cranial deformation achieved through binding during infancy which was a sign of high status.
For a closely related harp cf. Sotheby's New York, January 20, 1982, lot 319.