Lot 142
  • 142

Songye-Luba Male and Female Caryatid Stool, Democratic Republic of the Congo

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • wood
  • Height: 24 1/2 in (62.2 cm)
the number "318" painted in red underneath the seat; two stickers each with the number "95", one on underside and one behind male figure.


Georges Vidal, Cannes and Paris
Merton D. Simpson, New York, by 1971
Marc and Denyse Ginzberg, New York, by 1978
Lance and Roberta Entwistle, London, acquired from the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired from the above on July 2, 1992


C.W. Post Art Gallery, Greenvale, New York, African Sculpture: The Shape of Surprise, February 17 - March 30, 1980
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., African Art in the Cycle of Life, September 15, 1987 - March 20, 1988


Merton D. Simpson (adv.), African Arts, Vol. IV, No. 3, Spring 1971, p. 1
Raoul Lehuard, "La Collection Marc Ginzberg", Arts d'Afrique Noire, No. 25, Spring 1978, p. 6
Werner Gillon, Collecting African Art, London, 1979, p. 118, fig. 16
Susan Vogel, African Sculpture: The Shape of Surprise, New York, 1980, p. 47, cat. 167
Roy Sieber, African Art in the Cycle of Life, Washington, 1987, p. 110, cat. 61
Marc Ginzberg, The African Art Collection of Marc and Denyse Ginzberg, New York, 2003, cats. 72A and B


Very good condition for an object of this age and rare type. A small cavity from a knot in the wood to the top of the seat. Minor cavities from insect damage to proper right side of female figure's neck. A shallow channel to the back of the proper right hip of the female figure and a cavity in the heel, probably from a flaw in the wood. Age cracks, including a crack to the top (seat) above the head of the male figure. Remains of mud wasps' nest under seat where the head of the male figure attaches. Surface erosion and remnants of soil on underside of integrally-carved circular base, with age cracks radiating outward from the center including one between the feet to the male figure, one outside the proper right foot of the male figure, and one through the heel of the female figure, the latter two with old native metal brackets for stabilization on the outer edge. Metal oxidized. Chipping around bottom edge. Minor marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, and small chips throughout. Fine glossy, aged medium brown patina with remains of dark red-brown stain, and some encrustation.
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 Kunin Songye-Luba male and female caryatid stool is an ambitious masterwork of central African regalia, fusing two iconic sculptural styles in a tour-de-force of monoxyle openwork carving.  The work of a well-known late 19th century atelier, it is one of only three known two-figure stools which represent the apex of this style.

The region inhabited by the Songye people, in the center of present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, is bordered to the west, south, and south east by Luba groups, and to the east by the Hemba.  The permeable geographic and cultural borders between these groups resulted in a fertile exchange of sculptural styles and formats.  The present stool belongs to a small corpus of highly refined large-scale Songye-Luba caryatid stools of very strong, distinctive style.  Discussing a closely related pair of stools in this style in the collection of the Smith College Museum of Art, which were collected in situ in 1909, Pemberton (2011: 38) notes: “The Songye caryatid stools […] are clearly Songye, and yet, as Olbrechts noted in the 1940s, they are illustrative of a Luba-Songye sub-style [Petridis 2001: cat. 48]. The caryatid stool with a kneeling, standing, or seated female figure supporting the seat of authority was one of the most important emblems of Luba kingship and the privilege of chiefs and other persons of significant office.  […]  The full and rounded forms of the Luba figures are replaced by Songye abstract design.  The heavily lidded eyes, the triangular nose whose bridge begins high on the brow, and the square, forward-jutting chin all recall facial features of the kifwebe.  The teeth are bared and the neck has rings of flesh.  The legs express physical power in their stance.  There are relatively few stools – perhaps no more than fifteen or twenty – like the pair in the collection of the Smith College Museum of Art [and the present stool].  The strong similarity of stools in this group suggests that they were carved by persons identified with a particular workshop. […] In many respects the carving of the caryatid is very much like that of the mankishi sculptures found throughout the Songye area.”

Within the corpus of Songye-Luba caryatid stools there are only three stools which feature addorsed male and female figures: one first published by Frans Olbrechts in 1946 (Olbrects 1946: nos. 161-162), one today in the Laura and James J. Ross Collection, New York (LaGamma 2004: 38, pl. 26), and the present example. Discussing the example in the Ross Collection, Lagamma (2004: 37-38) notes that “[…] male and female stand as independent figures separated by an empty vertical channel and are framed at top and bottom by the disks of the seat and the base.  Both figures are formally identical except for the carved projections of the female’s breasts, which complement the rounded curves of her forehead, the superimposed rings of her columnar neck, and her stomach, navel, and knees; these, in turn, are contrasted with the severe rectilinarity of both figures’ arms and backs.  It has been proposed that the number and gender of the figures depicted supporting such seats reflect the nature of the system of descent that conferred authority on its owner (Neyt 1977, pp. 489-91).  Among the closely related Luba, comparable seats are conceived as spirit capitals, uniting the owner and his people with the ancestors and spirits that influence human experience.  Such works are not functional artifacts but rather sacred receptacles in which the essence of kingship is enshrined.”

The collecting dates and information available for several of the stools in this group corroborate a date of circa 1900 or earlier for the creation of the stools, which exhibit rubbing, age cracks and wear that suggest a period of life in situ prior to collection. The male stool in the Art Institute of Chicago was collected in 1924; the female stool in the Detroit Institute of Arts was collected between 1914 and 1922 (Penney 1995: 153); and a female stool sold at Sotheby’s, New York, November 22, 1998, lot 313, was brought to Europe between 1910-12.