Commemorative Portrait Head (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

19th-20th century
Kongo
wood, kaolin, paint, traces of fiber
Democratic Republic of Congo, Rep. of Congo, Angola, Gabon
Overall: 10 5/8 × 6 7/8 × 6 in. (26.99 × 17.46 × 15.24 cm)
2006.9

Funerary customs, which are richly developed in the Kongo culture, include processions to visit the family of the deceased, community mourning rituals, and eulogies in honor of the deceased. Death represents the individual’s separation from the world of the living to cross the divide, where even greater status and power is achieved by taking one’s place with the ancestors. In Kongo practice, an effigy figure is only made to honor an individual of high status. This memorial portrait head, captivating in its serenity and poise, was likely affixed to an effigy torso by means of the holes at the base of the neck. The spirit-world context is indicated by the closed eyes and the ashen color of the expressionless face, which has been whitened with kaolin (fine white clay).

A large, rectangular opening cut into the back of the hollow head makes it a container, probably for a relic, but possibly for a medicine bundle. A cover to protect the contents was secured by lacing a cord through the holes around the opening. .

Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Commemorative Portrait Head 360

360 views of 2006.9 Commemorative Portrait Head

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