Lot: 333

Reliquiary figure "mbulu-ngulu"

Gabon, Kota, Obamba or Mindumu group

Provenance Size Starting price / estimated price
Paul & Ursula Seiler, Basel, Switzerland (1940s)
Adrian Schlag, Brussels, Belgium
H: 21.7 inch 40000 EUR / 80000 EUR

wood, brass and copper sheet, metal nails and -clamps, base A work of the same artist was offered in 1973 at Sotheby's London (Lot 304). The reliquiary figures from eastern Gabon and neighbouring Congo are creations that have particularly appealed to lovers of African and modern art from the moment it was "discovered" in the early 20th century. Although their appearance differs greatly from those of the Kota and Mahongwe groups to the "byeri" figures of the Fang groups, they had all the same function as conceptual "tombstones" and "mobile" cemetaries. They were generally attached to baskets or round boxes of bark in which relics such as fragments of the skull, bones, and other mementos of the honoured deceased were placed. Kota art is based on an aesthetic of frontality, in which votive portraits of ancestral lineages in high relief exist in a two-dimensional space with no attempt to suggest a resemblance. The approach is distinctive in African art. The design of the effigies, inspired by the visions of the sculptor and not by a memory of the individuals depicted, is more an expression of a symbolic code than a visual reminder. They are images of eternity whose role is to maintain an ongoing link between the living and the dead.


Chaffin, Francois & Alain, L'Art Kota, Meudon o. J., p. 224, ill. 125 Perrois, Louis, Kota Ancestors, Paris 2011, p. 59, ill.16 Perrois, Louis, The Kota figures in the Paolo Morigi Collection, In: Sotheby's, Paris, 6 December 2005, p. 78 f.
Schlag, Adrian, Tribal Art Classics, Brussels 2013, p. 16