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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Miscellaneous : Yombe Ivory Maternity Figure
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Yombe Ivory Maternity Figure - DA.365 (LSO)
Origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Circa: 1850 AD to 1950 AD
Dimensions: 12.5" (31.8cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Ivory
Condition: Very Fine

Location: United States
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This powerful and naturalistic ivory sculpture bears characteristics of the Yombe people of the DRC. It portrays a woman (?mother) kneeling in deferential yet proud posture behind a smaller, standing figure who presumably represents her offspring. The detailing is astonishing, with her feathered coiffure, ornate cross-hatched headwear and highly decorated tasselled belt. The face is flat, with a retrousse nose, thin lips and almond-rimmed eyes.

The Yombe are one of a group of six sub-tribes that made up the Kongo (or Bakongo) people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Gabon. The kingdom absorbed European traditions and retained much of their indigenous culture. Their religious beliefs are based around a reverence for the dead, who are believed to be able to assist the living. Spirits are believed to inhabit minkisi charms, that can be appealed to for assistance in times of duress or uncertainty. They are also known for ntadi limestone grave markers and maternity figures with open mouths, almond-shaped eyes and detailed surface work.

The Yombe are renowned for their bodily scarifications and the high quality of their ivory work. Their sculpture are usually sharper-detailed than other Kongo figures. One of their more notable forms is the serene maternity figures, such as that depicted here. They are believed to be associated with the sentiments of submission, deference, obedience and devotion as much as maternity; in some cases the baby is actually absent.

This is an exceptional example in terms of material and care to detail. Ivory exceeds gold in terms of value to most African groups, and it was thus the personal property of a high-ranking member of Yombe society.

- (DA.365 (LSO))


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