Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Central Africa, 1600–1800 A.D.

Lunda state, ca. 1600–mid–19th century
Military expansion of Portuguese Angola, 1575–ca.1700
Kuba kingdom, ca. 1624–late 19th century
Ana Nzinga rules Ndongo, 1624–ca. 1650
Luba kingdom, late 16th–mid-19th century


Encompasses Angola, Cabinda, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon

Supplemental Maps

Deteriorating environmental conditions and the dissolution of the Kongo kingdom in the Atlantic region leads to wide-ranging and protracted violence as rival kingdoms compete for natural resources and political dominance. The European demand for slaves encourages this chronic warfare. Portugal contributes to the instability as it clashes with neighboring kingdoms to establish and expand Angola, a small colony at the northwestern tip of the present country of Angola. The eastern savanna witnesses the rise of the Kuba kingdom and the Luba and Lunda empires, three multi-ethnic states with advanced political systems and rich courtly cultures. While the more isolated Kuba kingdom does not have direct contact with European merchants at this time, Lunda rulers actively encourage trade by opening routes to the coast. Territorial expansion southward to the African Copperbelt in present-day Zambia and east toward Lake Tanganyika extends Lunda commercial control over goods and materials from the East African coast and southern interior. To the north, Luba kings consolidate their political and economic control over neighboring peoples.

    • ca. 1600–ca. 1700 Luba rulers extend their political and economic influence through conquest and alliances, spreading governmental structures and chiefly emblems such as royal canes, bracelets, and axes throughout the region.

    • ca. 1600 Luba processes of "colonization," personified in oral histories as the culture hero Chibinda Ilunga, introduce new governmental concepts such as divine kingship (balopwe) southward to the Lunda peoples and stimulate the development and dispersal of courtly art forms.

    • 1600–1620s Severe, recurring droughts throughout the Atlantic region give rise to migrant bands of Imbangala marauders from the interior highlands. Periodically allied with the Portuguese at Angola, they destabilize the large centralized states of the coastal lowlands such as Ndongo, a neighbor of Kongo and Angola, and increase the flow of slaves out of the Portuguese port of Luanda. In this period, the Imbangala also develop kilombo, a system of initiation in which youths renounce family ties and are raised communally in quasi-military formations. This term resurfaces in nineteenth-century Brazil as quilombo, where it refers to hidden communities of escaped slaves, many of whom are of Central African descent.

    • 1624 Dona Ana Nzinga (died 1663) becomes queen of the Central African state of Ndongo and spends the next two decades fighting Portuguese expansion with the aid of Dutch and African allies.

    • ca. 1625 King Shyaam a-Mbul a Ngoong (Shyaam the Great) unifies a constellation of chieftancies to form the Kuba kingdom and develops new artistic and ceremonial traditions, including innovations in textile design, urban planning, and new court positions.

    • 1641–1648 The Dutch capture the Portuguese port of Luanda.

    • 1641–1665 The successive reigns of Kongo kings Garcia II (1641–61) and Antonio I (1661–65) witness a prolonged campaign to restore centralized control of the kingdom by containing Portuguese aggression emanating from Angola. Hostilities erupt in 1665 at the Battle of Mbwila, in which Antonio I and his principal lieutenants are killed. The kingdom dissolves in the absence of leadership and authority.

    • ca. 1650 Lunda ruler mwaant Yaav Naweej establishes trade between his capital at Musuma and the coastal city of Luanda, opening up the Central African interior to imported European goods and technologies and providing an outlet for African slaves and forest products. The American tuber cassava (manioc) is introduced to the Central African savanna and becomes a dietary staple. Trade relations with Europe produce greater wealth that leads to lavish patronage of court art forms fashioned from wood, ivory, and metals created by local artisans.

    • 1670–1700 Mwaant Yaav Naweej expands Lunda influence by sending colonists from the heartland southeast to Mukulweji at the northern tip of the Copperbelt (northern Zambezi area). The frontier settlement exacts copper ore and salt as tribute.

    • 1680 A solar eclipse occurs and is incorporated into Kuba royal chronologies. Its position within these lists helps to establish approximate dates for key events in Kuba royal history.

    • ca. 1700 King Misha mi-Shyaang a-Mbul of the Kuba kingdom introduces the practice of ndop royal portrait carving.

    • ca. 1710 Princess Kimpa Vita, also known as Dona Beatriz, attempts to revitalize the Kongo kingdom and introduces the cult of Toni Malau, or Saint Anthony. Kongo artists create figurines, staffs, pendants, and other sculptural forms bearing his image.

    • 1730s Agents of British and French industrialists develop coastal trading sites to the north and south of Portuguese Luanda. The resulting competition triggers a massive influx of cheap textiles from Europe and Asia. With their spread throughout the interior, they replace palm cloth and salt as the major trade currency of the region.

    • 1740–1760 An eastward migration from Mukulweji led by Kanyembo I establishes the powerful Lunda state of Kazembe (in present-day northeastern Zambia), fostering the development of transcontinental trade routes connecting the east coast to the Central African interior.

    • 1770s Portugal attempts to reassert its authority over ports and trade routes via large-scale military campaigns in Central Africa. Their success augments Portuguese economic and cultural influence in the region, facilitating the spread of European goods, Catholicism, and the slave trade as far east as the upper Zambezi River.