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Post Lot Text
Within the Kongo kingdom, staffs with finely carved ivory staff finials were among some of the most prestigious works of art. Held by those of high rank, many examples and styles exist, although there was never a proliferation of these given the exclusivity of their distribution. Within this already tightly held genre, according to Bernard de Grunne, in his discussion of another ivory finial within this corpus (see Pierre Bergé & Associates, Brussels, 9 December 2009, lot 15) exist only ten which bear the mark of the particular Kongo atelier which created the offered seated female figure. Each is distinguished by full, nearly bow-shaped lips baring sharply-filed teeth and close-set inlaid lead eyes.
Within this body of work, Felix (op. cit.), in his study of Kongo ivories, has identified four, including the current figure, as the same hand. He refers to this artist as 'the master of frontal concentric circles', so-named for the prominent use of the circle-and-dot motif. Other similarities are the striated, backswept coiffure tapering to a 'V' at the nape of the neck. The other three figures are seen in the Muse Dapper, Paris. (inv. n 0588, Felix cat. no. 861); another in the Malcolm Collection (cat. No. 859); and the third formerly owned by Jacques Kerchache (cat. no. 862).
The use of a staff among high-ranking members of the Kongo kingdom is based in their founding myth that nine staffs of the nine original clans were needed to rule. They were used in rituals ostensibly as early as the 14th century when several kingdoms were consolidated, only later to be dissolved by the 18th century into smaller clans as the Portuguese and the slave trade, among other changes, created smaller factions within the kingdom. Matrilineal, the Kongo most often place a female figure in ivory as the subject matter. The staff itself is thought of as a sort of conduit from the earthly realm into the ancestral world. The tip is usually metal for piercing the ground. The female figure is in reverence to women's role in advancing the life of the clan in perpetuity (Austin in MRAC, 1996, pp. 292 and 294). In the offered figure, her rank is defined by her posture -seated, with a voluptuous, fertile body and erect back and wearing opulent of ornaments of a large beaded necklace and patterning of concentric circles adorning the body.