Aug 18, 2016
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Songye Headrest, 19th century, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Songye Headrest, 19th century, Democratic Republic of Congo. © sothebys.com.

Provenance: Collecté par le Capitaine F. Vandevelde avant 1891.
Collection J.H.W. Verschure (1899-1977), Heer-Sur-Meuse.
Transmis par descendance.

Bibliography: Jacques, «Conférence de M. le Capitaine F. Vandevelde sur les Collections Ethnographiques rapportées de son dernier Voyage au Congo» in Bulletin de la Société d’Anthropologie de Bruxelles, tome X, 1891-1892, 1892, pl. 1, n°18.

From the source:

“One of these pillows is in the shape of a one-armed man, like the god Bro” (V. Jacques, ibid., p. 62).

(…) This discovery was immediately identified as a crucial one. V. Jacques (ibid, p. 62) builds on a comparison between these two “pillows” and the headrests found in Egyptian tombs, to demonstrate the “sustained relations between Egypt and the countries of Central Africa”.

(…) According to François Neyt (1993, p.183), for the Luba, headrests – which were used during sleep to preserve elaborate hair arrangements – were associated with the spirits that inhabit the world of the night and whose disproportionate feet evoke walking, both in this piece and in the Chauvet/Ratton headrest (personal communication, April 2013). The androgynous appearance (beard and feminine tattoo) “combines both the energies derived from Luba traditions and centred on the female symbol, and the more masculine Songye magical forces; the striking representation of a single arm adds to the energy of the magical element, the counter-wizardry, expressed in the Songye statuary” (ibid). In African sculpture, very few pieces represent a character with one arm; one such specimen is the famous Mumuye statue from the former Kerchache Collection or certain Lobi statues. This unique feature complements the sculptor’s overall virtuosity in this piece, infusing this archaic miniature with all the monumentality of the formidable Songye statuary.

Some Egyptian headrests and a Manteño (Ecuador) chair of power:

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