African Art: a prestigious Swiss collection

Milan, Wednesday 14 October 2020


Kota, northern region, Congo Brazzaville, region of Sibiti (*)

Hardwood covered with copper strips
H 41 cm
Figure of a reliquary.
This 41cm-high model, with a concave / convex face, is made from copper foil engraved with decorated strips, made from a stamp work on the surface. The capsule-shaped eyes are fixed with copper nails. The mouth is shown in the act of smiling. All the metal plates have been fixed with copper nails and strips. The wooden base, in the shape of a diamond covered with holes in a cross-section, is covered with stamped copper strips in the upper half, a technique also used to cover the neck and the diamond shape at the bottom. On the back, there is a diamond shape emphasises, which is typical of many Kota works.

The style of this model corresponds to the type of Kota reliquaries made by the group located in the northern Congo, in the region of Sibiti, an area south of the Kota tradition. We use the classification that French specialist Louis Perrois identified for these models, characterised by the following criteria:
- oval face without a crest;
- convex forehead, concave face;
- saggital line, curbed brow ridge;
- dominant decoration is plates / sheets (here decorated sheets);
- curved side locks with wraparound comb decorated with duck tail;
- semi-globular eyes with studded pupils;
- realistic nose (here at a dihedral angle);
- base of turbot wood (here in a square section);


€ 18.000 - 22.000

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- George F. Keller antique collection (Paris / New York) (Inv. G.F.K…- number illegible);
- Former Paolo Morigi collection (Lugano);
- Former private collection (Lugano);


- Lugano 2002, Palazzo Riva, Banca Svizzera Italiana (BSI);


Reproduced in:
- VENTURI LUCA M. “Anime antiche, arte negra, da una raccolta di sculture dell’Africa occidentale” BSI Bank, Lugano 2002, fig. 40;

- CHRISTIE'S "Art Africain, Océanien et Précolombien" Paris auction on 14th June 2004, number 188 (483);
- BOLZ INGEBORG “Zur Kunst in Gabon: Stilkritische Untersuchungen an Masken und Plastiken des Ogowe-Gebietes” in Ethnologica Neue Folge - Band 3, Cologne 1966; fig. XLI, fig. a;

These reliquaries from equatorial Africa represent figures reserved for the worship of ancestors. They have been studied since the ‘60s by numerous French specialists, including:

- Alain Chaffin, who published one of the first studies on Kota reliquaries, with special attention paid to the morphological aspects.
“L’Art Kota” articolo sulla rivista “Arts d’Afrique Noire” Arnouville num. 5, Spring 1973, pages 12 - 43;

- Louis Perrois was in Gabon for at least ten years, where he deepened our knowledge of the historical context and tribal traditions of the different ethnic groups. In 1965 / 1966, as an academic at the French Institution for Scientific Research (ORSTOM), he visited the villages of Makokou and Mékambo in Kota. Today, he is considered the world’s most eminent specialist in this field. He has published his research in a series of books, including:
- PERROIS LOUIS “Patrimoines du Sud, collections du Nord” Trente ans de recherche à propos de la sculpture africaine (Gabon, Cameroon) ORSTOM, Paris 1997;
- PERROIS LOUIS “Arts du Gabon” Arnouville 1979, from page 193 group IV (Figures without a crest), photo on pages 204 and 205 and designs on page 316;
- PERROIS LOUIS “Art ancestral du Gabon dans les collections du Musée Barbier-Mueller” Geneva 1985, description on page 49 and designs on page 52 (Category VI);

(*) Morigi’s outline suggests Makouku as the place of origin, a city in central Gabon in the region in the region of the upper Ivindo.These sculptures of Kota reliquaries were attributed by Alain Chaffin and Louis Perrois to a subgroup who live in the Sibiti region, a forest area in the high Niari in Republic of the Congo. It is at least 500km from Makouko, which is located rather in Gabon, on the Invindo, above the Equator. The region of Sibiti is as far south as the Kota people have come. Sculptures of this kind would be rarer from the Kota of central Gabon.Alain Chaffin, in his investigation in Kota art published in “Arts d’Afrique Noire” Arnouville num. 5, Spring 1973, pages 12 - 43, highlights on page 42 a work “under the style of the Sibiti region”.At the time, Chaffin knew of only 5 sculptures like this. One of these was illustrated by him on page 38, num. 28.


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