African Art: a prestigious Swiss collection

Milan, Wednesday 14 October 2020


Mbole (Democratic Republic of Congo), central-eastern region

Hardwood with a glossy coating and adornments
H 44 cm

Anthropomorphic figure.
Sculpture of a male with a flat, embossed hairstyle on its head, a hollow, oval face and elevated nose, narrow eyes, a thin, cut mouth, subtle ears and a slender body with hands on the stomach. The various parts of the body are painted with a whitish kaolin mixture. These elements all set it apart from primitive art sculptures.


€ 10.000 - 12.000

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- Former Paolo Morigi collection (Lugano) (*) (Morigi inventory label num. 583);
- Former private collection (Lugano);


- FELIX MARC LEO “100 Peoples of Zaire and their sculpture: Mbole, pages 104 - 105” Brussels 1987;
- FELIX MARC LEO “100 Peoples of Zaire and their sculpture: Yela, pages 198 -199” Brussels1987;
- FAGG WILLIAM “La sculpture africaine de Eliot Elisofon” London 1958, pag. 245, num. 313;
- ROBBINS M. WARREN & NOOTER NANCY INGRAM “African art in American Collections” 2004 Atglen, PA-USA, pag. 489, num. 1265;
- FRASER DOUGLAS “Arte Primitiva” Milano 1962, pag. 74, n° 32;

The Mbole are a group of around 150,000 people who live in the Congo, to the south of Kisanghani (previously Stanleyville), in forestlands that extend out to the west of the River Lomami, around the city of Opala.Their sculptures are rare because they were discovered relatively late. They have only been displayed in the West since the start of the ‘50s.Their sizes vary from 30cm to 100cm. These works usually contain a body divided into three parts: a head covered with a hat, a concave, oval-shaped face (which is always painted in white, the colour of death); a torso with drooping shoulders and arms detached from the body, resting on the stomach; extended legs showing dangling feet, as we can see in this sculpture.The slender style tends to favour the depiction of organs of the body cut to sharp edges.Mbole sculptures were made for members of the “Lilwa” secret society.They represent images (Ofika) of wrongdoers sentenced to hanging, the punishment for members of the sect who revealed confidential secrets.The images of those who had been hanged, through the statues, emerged at dances during gatherings and assemblies. Their vital strength guaranteed members of the “Lilwa” secret society security that members of the community would not misbehave.They depict an individual in the position the body assumes after being hanged. The body is relaxed, the shoulders folder, and arms extended from the chest, and the legs dangling.

(*) Morigi’s profile says: Yela - Mbole: Figure of a hanged person, region of Stanleyville
Yela sculptures, a group made up of 50,000 people in 1900, are quite small. Those we know about vary in size between 18cm and 36cm. The style is also similar to the Mbole style, and the origin of some statues gets mixed up. However, some Yela statues depict feet horizontally and can be balanced on a flat surface. The works of these two groups are still very rare to this day.


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