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Robert Reisdorff, Bruxelles, directeur général au Ministère des Colonies Belges
Olbrechts, F.M., Les Arts Plastiques du Congo Belge, Anvers, 1946, pl.XXXIV, nos.161-162
Bastin, M.-L., Introduction aux Arts de l'Afrique Noire, Arnouville, 1984, p.355, no.379
De Heusch, L., Utotombo: l'Art d'Afrique noire dans les collections privées belges, Bruxelles, 1988, p.106, Pl.XXXVIII
Bruxelles, Utotombo: l'Art d'Afrique noire dans les collections privées belges,1988, Pl.XXXVIII
Post Lot Text
SUPERB SONGYE PRESTIGE STOOL
This magnificent stool, with its bold and dramatic stylization of the human form conceived as cubistic elements is one of a corpus of sixteen in the same style of which only two others are supported on a male and female couple.
The Songye almost certainly adopted the tradition of figurative stools from the neighboring Luba whose close proximity resulted in a fusion of their iconography and formal imagery. Although the Luba tradition of caryatid stools, sometimes with an addorsed male and female couple, dates back well into the nineteenth century, this group of Songye stools seems to have been carved at the end of the nineteenth century or first quarter of the twentieth century and to have originated in the southern Songye territory bordering the north of the vast Luba empire in the area of Kisengwa and Kabalo. Frans Olbrechts was the first to define this hybrid style as the Luba-Songye substyle. It seems certain that the symbolic function would have been adopted by the Songye along with the visual formal imagery. Stools are the most important symbol of Luba kingship, featuring prominently in investiture rites and the stool serves as a metaphor for the various levels of hierarchy within the society. During the initiation rites of the Mbudye, the secret association of the royal officeholders, rank and title are indicated by the progressive accession to more prestigious forms of seating, the sculpted wooden stool being the highest level and the prerogative of only kings and spirit mediums. They were guarded by an appointed official and brought out on only very rare occasions to serve as a receptacle for the king's spirit rather than as a functional object.
Of the Songye stools with recorded collection data all seem to have been collected prior to 1925. These are a stool on female figure support now in the Detroit Institute of Arts collected by F.W Snow between 1914 and 1922 (Penney,D. et al., African Masterworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Washington D.C., 1995, p.153, no.78); a female figure stool collected by M Libert in 1916, later in the collection of Philippe Guimiot; another sold by Sotheby's New York on 22 November 1998, lot 313, brought back from the Congo by Emile Deladrier between 1910 and 1912; and a male figure stool now in the Art Institute of Chicago sold by Christie's in London on 3 December 1991, lot 110, collected by Mr and Mrs Schepens in Lusambo in 1924.
The only two other stools in the corpus on both male and female caryatid supports are a smaller one, 52 cm. in height, in the Laura and James Ross collection (see LaGamma, A., Echoing Images, Couples in African Sculpture, New York, 2004, p.38, pl.26) found in a flea market in Brussels in 2003; and another, almost identical in size and form to our present stool, now in the Minneapolis Institute of Art (see Sieber, R., African Art in the Cycle of Life, Washington D.C., 1987, p,110, no.61). It is identical in height, with the same tall narrow profile and the same scarification carved on the female's abdomen. Both works are undoubtedly the work of the same master carver.