African Art
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Artist: Master of the Kneeling Female Figure with Vessel, Yombe, active 19th–early 20th century

Ancestral Shrine Figure

19th–early 20th century

Wood with glass, black paint, and kaolin

21 7/8 × 10 1/16 × 10 1/16 in. (55.5 × 25.5 × 25.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.61
A Kongo chief’s passing was marked by the construction of an ancestral shrine (nzo a bakulu) positioned directly above his consecrated burial site. On display within this shrine were the prized possessions he had carefully collected over his lifetime. Central to the shrine were sculptures such as this one, often presented in groups of male and female figures. Here, a female figure kneels and reaches into a black vessel, while a miniature male figure sits on her left foot, his arms crossed in grief. The vessel may refer to a kinzu, an earthenware pot deposited at burial sites. In one version of the Kongo genesis myth, the cultural hero Né Kongo came from heaven bearing the first bilongo, or medicinal substances, which he prepared in a kinzu such as this one.
Geography: 
Republic of the Congo
or geography Democratic Republic of the Congo
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Yombe
Period: 
19th–20th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Collected in 1924 by Dr. Jacques-Joseph David; Philomene Vohs-David (Dr. Jacques-Joseph David's daughter), by 1929. Michael Oliver, New York, to June 6, 1983; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1983–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1990), 168-169, fig. 100.

Sarah Adams, Call and Response: Journeys of African Art, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2000), 2, fig. 3.

Robert Farris Thompson, “Icons for the Brave and Generous: Kongo Art at Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2005): 80–81, 86, fig. 9.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Holland Cotter, “At Yale, Renovation Puts African Art in Spotlight,” New York Times (January 10, 2007), E1, ill.

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): 44–45, fig. 15.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 79, 108, fig. 23.

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.