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Post Lot Text
The Blum maternity group is an exquisite example of Yombe figure sculpture known as phemba which have long been among some of the most desirable works of African art, notable for their naturalism reduced to perfection. In the Blum figure is particularly voluptuous and has extremely intricate raised scarification which was surely touched often and for a long time given the softly worn surface. In its precision, intricacy and balance of tenderness and fierceness of expression, it compares perhaps most closely to the Yombe maternity formerly in the collection of Robert Rubin (see Sotheby's New York, 13 May 2011, lot 137).
Little detail is known about this particular corpus of Yombe sculpture, but they are believed to have been created for a cult founded by a famous mid-wife. They are generally categories as either living or dead depending on the position of the baby. However, it is believed that these portrayals are symbolic rather than literal such as the death of a particular line of families or a tradition, rather than commemoration of an actual deceased person. Moreover, MacGaffey notes that in related Kongo figure sculpture bent knees signifies that a person is alive (in MRAC, Treasures from the African Museum, Tervuren, 1995, p. 290). Here in the Blum figure the baby is in repose, but in a most interesting detail his right leg is bent and he grasps his own foot at his hip. She wears the mitred coiffure fashionable among those of high-rank at this period, this with her earring and scarification, the figure is portrayed as an ideal of womanhood (see, op. cit., number 22, for another related figure in the collection of the Royal Museum, Tervuren, RG 19848). See also, Lehuard, Les Phemba du Mayombe, Arnouville, 1977, p. 78, for a related phemba from the Arman Collection.