The sculpture may have been carved in honor of a woman after her death, or after the death of a male chief. Kongo society is matrilineal, so the chief's right to political power is inherited through the female line.
This Mother and Child Figure is attributed to the Yombe peoples, who inhabit a large territory now divided among the nations of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Angola. Its origin has been traced to the areas surrounding the village of a master carver in the western Democratic Republic of Congo, where similarly carved objects were collected in the early 20th century. Its naturalism suggests that it could have been the portrait of a real person, and thus an excellent testimonial to the immense talent of the artist who carved it. Once referred to as the “Burniaux maternity figure,” after the Belgian collector F. Burniaux, who owned it from about 1930 to 1980, the sculpture was acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1998.
Mother and Child Figure
late 1800s–early 1900s
Africa, Central Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (most likely), Cabinda, or Republic of the Congo, probably Yombe-style maker
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