Commemorative Mother and Child Figure

19th–20th century
Angola or Democratic Republic of the Congo
Kongo, Yombe group
Wood, glass, metal, pigment
H. 13 5/8 x W. 4 3/4 x D. 3 7/8 in. (34.6 x 12.1 x 9.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This maternity figure is an idealized Kongo archetype of historical feminine beauty. Her cicatrices, raised geometric patterns on the chest and back, as well as her filed teeth, beaded adornments, and prominent hairstyle, denote her elite status. The mother's peaked coiffure is echoed by that of the child cradled in her lap. This sculpture was likely placed in a shrine to honor the ancestral mothers of a lineage. The glass elements added to the figure's eyes relate to the sculpture's commemorative role. Reflective surfaces such as mirrored glass suggest the surface of water, a symbolic link to the ancestral realm.
    D'Harnoncourt's recommandations for his "Desiderata" focused mainly on arts from West and Central Africa. While the map at the front of his notebook does not even depict the continent south of Angola, the section devoted to Congolese art is so extensive that it needed to be divided into four subsections. In 1956, d'Harnoncourt was able to acquire this Kongo commemorative figure when it became available from New York gallerist Julius Carlebach. Until then, his "Desiderata" had been the famous example from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, repeatedly reproduced during the previous decades.

  • Provenance

    Donald H. Peters; [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978