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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Kongo Ivory Sculpture of the Virgin Mary
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Kongo Ivory Sculpture of the Virgin Mary - CK.0080
Origin: Western DRC
Circa: 18th th Century AD to 19th th Century AD
Dimensions: 8.25" (21.0cm) high x 1.5" (3.8cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Ivory

Location: United States
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Christianity was introduced into the central west African region ruled by the Kingdom of the Kongo by the Portuguese during the end of the 15th century. Soon after, the King converted to Christianity and within a generation, Christianity was officially adopted as the state religion. Portuguese advisors worked alongside Kongo natives to develop local religion institutions following the Roman Catholic model. Over time, the Kongo developed a unique syncretic version of Christianity that incorporated native customs, beliefs, and linguistic phrases in order to appeal to a broader public. Although this seemingly impure form of Christianity offended some strict European clergy, these native traditions were well entrenched. Although the Kingdom of the Kongo was eventually terminated by the Portuguese in the early 20th century, the Kongo peoples themselves thrive today, spread across the modern nations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola. Christianity continues to be practiced among a significant percentage of the population.

This ivory figure depicts the Virgin Mary standing with her hands clasped together in prayer. A beaded rosary with a cross pendant dangles down from her hands and falls just below her knees. She wears a hooded robe that covers her upper body while a long skirt lifts up at the bottom, revealing her bare feet. The overall form of this sculpture echoes the natural shape of the ivory. Stained brown, certain parts reveal the white hue of the ivory beneath, having been rubbed bare by the faithful. Clearly this sculpture was no mere decorative piece, but played an active role in the spiritual life of its previous owners. The Kongo have long believed that sculptures were inhabited by spirits that were able to affect the lives of the living. Surely they must have believed this sculpture of the Virgin Mary had the power to influence their lives for the better. - (CK.0080)


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