African Art

Bowlbearing Figure (Mboko)

late 19th century


12 1/2 × 12 1/2 × 14 1/4 in. (31.8 × 31.8 × 36.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James M. Osborn for the Linton Collection of African Art
The idealized naturalism, the harmony of volumes and curves, and rich sheen of this piece are characteristic of Luba carvings.  Bowl-bearing figures were part of the royal treasures and also belonged to royal diviners. They honor and remember the first mythical diviner, whose clairvoyance helped the first Luba king ascend to power. At their doors, rulers could have kept bowls like this filled with sacred white chalk associated with purity, renewal, and the spirit world. Royal diviners used them as vehicles for their rituals. The female figure represents the wife of the possessing spirit and alludes to the diviner’s actual wife as an intermediary.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On view
19th century
Containers - Wood

Acquired by Leo Frobenius (1873–1938), Germany, during his Kongo-Kasia Expedition, 1904–1906 (Frobenius Institute Register Numbers FoA 01-2692 and FoA 01-2700). Dr. Ralph Linton (1893–1953), New Haven, Conn., by 1953 [see note 1]; by descent to his wife, Adelin Hohlfield Linton (1899–1977), New Haven, Conn.; sold to Marie-Louise Montgomery Osborn (1905–1968) and James Marshall Osborn (1906–1976), New Haven, Conn., 1954; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.,1954

Note 1: Ralph Linton was the Sterling Professor of Anthropology at Yale from 1946 until his death in 1953.


Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 162–63, fig. 159.

John Pemberton III, Crosscurrents: Art of the Southeastern Congo, exh. cat. (Northampton, Mass.: Smith College Museum of Art, 2011), 45, no. 32.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 51, fig. 29.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.