Luba Female Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
height 19 3/4in (50.2cm)
Collected by Ruben Glasstone, Elisabethville, Belgian Congo between 1912 and 1933
Thence by descent
In 1903 at the age of approximately 19, Reuben (Ruby) Glasstone caught the S.S. Galeka from Southampton to Cape Town. He lived in various towns over the years eventually working his way north to the then Elisabethville in the Belgian Congo. This was the time of the copper mining and he opened the first European general merchant store to service the many European miners now present in the Congo.
In 1912 Ruby married Gertrude Hermann from Oudtshoorn, Cape, and they went back to Elisabethville where they lived until around 1933 when they moved to Cape Town.
According to Mary Nooter Roberts (1996: pp. 42-98), "Luba people say that only a woman's body is strong enough to contain a powerful spirit like a king's, so sculpture dedicated to kingship is almost always female in gender." (p. 42)
"The female predominates in Luba art. Women were important political actors historically, as emissaries and ambassadors, counselors and advisers. Women of the royal patriline were intermarried with outlying chiefs, thus extending the scope of Luba power into the surrounding area. And women of the court had title and functions critical to the exercise of power. In these roles, and in their abilities as spirit mediums, women were crucial to the balance of authority in the kingdom at home and in the Luba view of the cosmos at large."(p. 91)
"In Luba belief, beauty is not innate but is created over the course of a lifetime. Physical perfection reflects moral perfection. The body is a canvas on which to work: one makes oneself beautiful through cosmetic adornments and manipulations that Luba people consider aesthetically and spiritually pleasing."(p. 85)
"The bumps of scarification, and the patterns configured from them, can be combined and recombined in endless variations to create different messages and meanings according to one's status, identity, and political intentions. Luba sculptures...(like the present work)...accurately represent actual Luba scarification patterns, which were first applied to the skin during girls' initiation rites before marriage and were renewed and added to throughout a woman's lifetime, reflecting the cumulative nature of identity and memory." (p. 98)
Luba female figures, through their "gesture, expression, and adornment,...express fundamental principles of power and spirit embodiment." The "coiffure encircles her head like a halo, her face is ethereal and timeless, and her simple gesture of hands to breasts signifies her devotion to the spirit world." (p. 42)