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African Art

Reliquary Figure

19th century

Wood, brass, copper, iron, and cowrie shells

28 1/8 × 14 3/4 × 2 3/8 in. (71.5 × 37.5 × 6 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
Kota reliquaries emphasize the head. From this stylized, flattened rendering of the human head with a popular nineteenth-century men’s coiffure extends a lozenge representing an abstraction of the upper body. A basket or bundle containing ancestral remains was attached to this schematic representation of the body. Several such reliquaries were housed in a community enclosure for the unity of local ancestors who were called upon to enhance the reproductive capacity of their descendants. The metals attached to the surfaces of the reliquary figures helped avert evil spirits and added prestige because of their great value. Kota reliquaries feature a formal play between concave and convex surfaces. The concave faces are reputedly female; the convex, male.
Made in Central Africa, Gabon
On view
19th century

Given to a Swedish missionary in 1914, and was brought by him to Stockholm in 1917
The object has remained in the custody of his family and was aquired directly from his daughter, Mrs. Nyren, in Stockholm, by Michael Oliver; Mrs. Nyren, Stockholm; Micheal Oliver, New York, to June 12, 1981; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1981–2004;Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


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

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2006–June 30, 2007,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2007): 4, ill.

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), 73, 120, fig. 17.

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.