Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Lot 131
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo

US$ 50,000 - 70,000
€ 43,000 - 60,000
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
ndibu
Wood, mirror, ritual patination, plant fiber
height 7 1/2in (19.1cm)

Provenance
John J. Klejman Gallery, New York
Sotheby's, New York, 8 May 1996, Lot 123
Roberta and Lance Entwistle Gallery, Paris/London
Private Collection

Published
LaGamma, Alisa (ed), Kongo - Power and Majesty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2015, p. 93, fig. 54
African Heritage Archives no. 0021816

Exhibited
New York, Power and Majesty - The Art of the Kongo Masters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 16 September 2015 - 31 January 2016

John Thornton notes, "Before conversion, Kongo's religious structure was surely like that of its neighbors in Loango, to the north, and Ndongo, in the south: the people believed in the existence of the creator, Nzambi a Mpungu, and a large group of territorially specific lesser deities (nkita or simbi), who were generally consulted in shrines. Lesser entities might also be enticed to inhabit and empower smaller, often personal objects called kiteke. Ancestors acquired supernatural power in the afterlife and joined these spiritual entities. Most often consulted at their graves, ancestors were primarily concerned with their descendants, though ancestors of the elites might have powers resembling those of the lesser deities. Communication between humans and the spiritual world was facilitated by a nganga (priest) (pl. banganga), whose divination techniques included using ritual or ceremonial bells, as well as becoming possessed by the spirits to learn their wishes." (Alissa LaGamma (ed), Kongo - Power and Majesty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015, pp. 93-94)

The artist of this elegant and refined masterpiece was exquisitely attentive to the carving of the facial elements, including the details of the eyebrows over the upper lids; the naturalistic nose; and the detailed outlines of the lips around the open mouth revealing the upper row of teeth. The eyes, inlaid with mirrors, aid in communication with the spirits. The smooth, heart-shaped face itself is perfectly balanced within, and contrasts with, a majestic field of incised diamond patterns. Three carved sticks with semi-circular knob ends project out from within the composition, producing the bell's sound when shaken. A fiber cordage, tied at opposite sides, presumably serves to hold the sound sticks in place. The silky, smooth, leather-like patina of the suspension hole, with animal on top, testifies to the age and significant amount of traditional use. Overall, the artist's attention to detail must have been a necessity to the efficacy of the bell's intended function of facilitating communication with the spiritual world.
Contacts
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Superb and Rare Kongo Chief's Bell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
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