Kota Reliquary Figure, Gabon
- wood, metal
- Height: 24 1/2 in (62.2 cm)
Private Collection, California, acquired from the above in 1983
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.
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The present figure is of unusually strong architecture and bold expression: large dome-shaped eyes punctuate the mouthless face, which is rendered in an elegant convex heart-shape circumscribed from brows to chin. A sharp central ridge divides the face vertically, running down the forehead into a blade-shaped nose, the line tapering outward in a triangular section running into the chin. The artist has arranged fields of multiple colors of copper and brass with great success, most strikingly with an orange copper-colored field providing the backdrop for the dramatic circular eyes.
Within the Kota corpus, attempts to attribute to a sub-style, region, or atelier is difficult and can be paradoxical if based upon individual attributes. The present figure relates quite closely in the style of the heart-shaped face to a figure from the collection of the Musée Dapper, as well as to one face of a janus example sold at Sotheby's, Paris, June 21, 2017, lot 74. In contrast to the Dapper example, the present figure and the janus bear the classic transverse crescent coiffure and fanning side-coiffures with cylindrical pendants.
The iconographic designs of Kota figures reference the faces and indeed the skulls of those whose sacra they watched over. The surfaces of copper and brass—as highly valued as gold in nineteenth century Gabon—were kept gleaming by repeated sand polishing, and evoked the sparkling surface of a body of water, beyond or beneath which was the world of the deceased. For their creators, these sculptures embodied a mystical conduit between the living and the dead.