Art of the Luba People

Insights into the showroom

Hemba, Luba, Luba-Hemba, Tumbwe, DR Congo, Uruwa Style
Map: Ritual figures in Congo, Brussels 2018, © Marc Leo Felix, Charles Meur

The history of the Luba and Hemba is intimately intertwined. In cultural terms, this can be seen in the cult of ancestors, in the secret societies, but it is especially evident in the art style of their fascinating sculptural carvings.

For a long time, research has sought to make a more accurate distinction in assigning works to a particular ethnic group. In the past, the works were generally assigned to the Manyema area between the Congo River and Lake Tanganyika. Francois Neyt (1977) demarcated the Hemba, the Luba-Hemba, and the Luba-Shankadi territorially and stylistically. The recent cartographic style map by Marc L. Felix (2018) draws a superordinate style zone, the so-called "Uruwa Style": different Luba groupings, the Hemba, the Songe and a variety of other groups are assigned to this style.




Only the Hemba carved this world-famous male ancestor figures "singiti".


On the other hand the Luba and Luba-Hemba, art focuses on the "portrait of the woman" as an expression of religious and spiritual inspiration. Particularly well known are the female bowl bearing figures. The caryatid figurines on prestige stools and neck rests are also female signifying the important role of women in Luba society. The high reputation of women was evidently to see on the occastion of the investiture of a new king when he received the sacred authority of office and the territorial possessions from the "first wife".


Early travellers recognized the artistry of the Luba and Hemba masters. Unfortunately, at the end of the 19th century it was not considered important to record the names of the carvers. Only much later, by comparing the museum collections, did they try to recognise individual workshops. Franz M. Olbrechts started by compiling the works of the "Master of Buli". Later differentiated local styles (Mwanza, Bene Sungu etc.) or individual styles, such as the "master of cascading hairstyle". Occasionally one also found well-known artists such as "Kiloko" from Bussangu.


The Tumbwe live on the outskirts of the Luba Empire and in the immediate vicinity of the Buyu, a subgroup of the Luba. They have stylistic reminiscences of the Luba-Shankadi: cascading hairstyles are only one of this, as it is shown in this rare Tumbwe figure, a female ancestor figure "singiti" from the late 19th century.

Auction in Wurzburg:
Saturday, 29th of June - 2 pm  
Preview in Wurzburg:
June 26 to 28 - from 10 am to 7 pm  
June 29 - from 9 am 2 pm 

Telephone bidding support in German, English and French!  

You have also the opportunity to bid live on our website during the auction. Please note: Registrations from previous auctions have expired!

The preview starts next week. Take a look at the showroom even now.

Insights into the preview:
(Photos: Matt Keyworth)