Lot 55
  • 55

Kongo-Vili Power Figure in the Form of a Janus-Headed Dog, Democratic Republic of the Congo

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • wood, metal
  • Length: 28 1/2 inches (72.4 cm)


Henri Kamer, Paris, by 1971
Marceau Rivière, Paris
Merton D. Simpson, New York, acquired from the above before February 1982
Loudmer, Paris, June 22, 1984, lot 44
Merton D. Simpson, New York
Allan Stone, New York, acquired from the above on January 8, 1985


Galerie Kamer, New York, Magic African Art, November 1971
The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, Power Incarnate: Allan Stone's Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, May 14 - September 4, 2011


Henri Kamer, Magic African Art, New York, 1971, cat. 57
Kevin D. Dumouchelle, Power Incarnate: Allan Stone's Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2011, p. 33, cat. 9
No author, "Rendezvous at Sotheby's", Tribal Arts Magazine, Vol. XVIII:2, No. 71, Spring 2014, p. 34

Catalogue Note

According to MacGaffey (2012: 31), some "minkisi took the form of dogs because, as domesticated animals, dogs mediated between the village and the forest and thus, by analogy, between the worlds of the living and the dead; they had 'four eyes,' for things visible and invisible [..., and] also hunted, and could metaphorically hunt witches, that is, jealous neighbors believed to cause misfortune secretly."

And Robert Farris Thompson (in Van Dyke 2008: 176) continues: "The Kongo use of dog images in mvita, or spiritual warfare, against dangerous forces is a ritual intensification of the power of dogs to track and sniff out prey. [The Kongo] believe that between the city of the living and the city of the dead lies a village of dogs. Dogs are conversant with both worlds, and they seek out evil on both sides of kalunga, or the line that divides this world from the next. [...] The term [nkondi] plays on the verb "to hunt" (mu kondwa), and the nkondi [...] operates like a hunter, ferreting out quarry. It is also a material cosmogram: jaws point to the east and west, [a clay receptacle is] directed at the north (up), and well-anchored legs stand to the south (below). In other words, nkondi mbwa, or the Kongo dog-blade image, has the power to see ku ntwala ye ku nima ('forward and back') and ku mpemba ye ku nseke ('below and above'). The ritual authority who commissioned this image and the artist who created it thus elaborated a deep, secret form of visual word play: mansweki, mampinda ma nsadulu a mambu. War on witchcraft is often dramatized with an arsenal of mystical puns."

Double-headed dogs are exceedingly rare, the one from the Allan Stone Collection counting among the few last large-scale examples in private hands. It can be compared to several closely related figures in institutional collections, including one in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin (inv. no. "III C 13687"); a second in the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Munich (inv. no. "57-13-5"); a third in the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva (inv. no. "1021-35"); and a fourth in The Menil Collection, Houston (inv. no. "77-03 DJ").