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Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid

Buli Master, possibly Ngongo ya Chintu (Hemba, ca. 1810-1870)

19th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Buli village
Luba or Hemba peoples
Wood, metal studs
H. 24 in. (61 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Buckeye Trust and Charles B. Benenson Gifts, Rogers Fund and funds from various donors, 1979
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Stools with caryatid figures are among the most significant possessions of a Luba chief and are an integral part of the investiture ceremony that establishes his right to rule. Luba royal insignia often depict women whose high status is indicated by their elaborate coiffures and ornamental scarification marks. In the past, women, particularly the female relatives of kings, were instrumental in expanding and unifying the Luba kingdom. By marrying chiefs in outlying areas, these women created important bonds of kinship and allegiance. Because the Luba trace succession and inheritance through the female line, the caryatid imagery found on Luba royal seats represents female ancestors who provide symbolic support for the chief's reign while serving as a physical support for his person.

    This Luba chief's ceremonial stool has been attributed to the Buli Master, one of the best-known sculptors of traditional African art, who was named by European scholars after a village in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where a number of his works were collected. The stool is part of a corpus of about twenty stylistically related works. Many of these entered European collections around 1900, and it is believed that the Buli Master was active in the middle to late nineteenth century.

    This stool's seat is supported by the standing figure's elongated fingers. Her torso and buttocks are embellished with intricate raised scarification patterns, and she is further adorned with a projecting four-lobed coiffure that forms a cross at the back. The Buli Master's distinctive style is evident in the figure's elongated features, prominent cheekbones, and emotional intensity.

  • Provenance

    The Buli Master (Ngongo ya Chintu possibly), Democratic Republic of the Congo, fl. ca. 1850-1900; Han Coray, Switzerland, 1920–1971; [An unknown dealer, in 1971]; Comte Jean-Jacques de Launoit, Belgium, 1971–1979; (Sotheby Parke-Bernet and Co., London, June 21, 1979, no. 182)

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