Lot 125
  • 125

Luba Royal Neckrest, Democratic Republic of the Congo

120,000 - 180,000 USD
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  • wood
  • Height: 7 3/8 in (18.7 cm)


Julius Konietzko, Hamburg, by 1928
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


Musée Dapper, Paris, Supports de rêves, April 20 - September 16, 1989
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


Christiane Falgayrettes, Supports de rêves, Paris, 1989, p. 78
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


Very good condition for an object of this type and age. Old losses to back of coiffure, patinated over. Crack to back of integrally-carved base, with one wedge-shaped element re-glued and one wedge shaped loss. Minor marks, nicks, scratches, and abrasions consistent with age and handling. Exceptionally fine reddish brown patina with thick remains of ritually-applied oil and encrustation. A paper label on the underside printed in block letters with the number "22".
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.

Catalogue Note

The political authority of Luba kings and chiefs was derived from their spiritual power and expressed through their possession of certain paraphernalia. These included caryatid stools, figural scepters, bow stands, and neckrests. The latter had both functional and spiritual dimensions. As pillows they helped preserve the intricate coiffures of the aristocratic class during sleep and ventilate the head and neck during hot nights. Nooter-Roberts (in Verswijver 1995: 361, cat. 177) notes: “Coiffures were and still are extremely important to the Luba; early explorers of the region nick-named the Luba ‘the headdress people.’ Turn-of-the-century sources describe the complexity and extravagance of some hairstyles they observed, and one missionary made an entire book of watercolors showing the various styles worn by both men and women to mark identity and to indicate profession, title or status.”

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.”