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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection Consignment : Mangbetu Terracotta Vessel
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Mangbetu Terracotta Vessel - AM.0045
Origin: Zaire
Circa: 1890 AD to 1950 AD
Dimensions: 13" (33.0cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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This anthropomorphic terracotta vessel is a wonderfully representative example of an art form that flourished in north-east Zaire between the 1890s and 1920s. All the key elements are present, namely the elongated skull, fan-shaped coiffure, diminutive breasts, rounded base and looped handle. The shape of the skull was manipulated by binding the heads of infants with raffia. The incised patterns that adorn the neck and base seem to have been adapted from a long tradition of producing utilitarian terracotta vessels. It has been suggested that this wonderful surface texture originally had a more practical function. Utilitarian vessels, especially water bottles, were originally produced without handles. The incised decoration allowed their owners to keep a strong grip on them. In this case however the stippling was entirely for aesthetic effect and it is likely that the vessel’s function was ceremonial rather than practical.

Such elaborate vessels were highly desirable and seem to have been the exclusive preserve of the wealthy elite and European visitors to the region. The character of this example is increased by the proud, backward tilt of the head and the extremely long neck. Representing the craftsman’s idealisation of Mangbetu feminine beauty, this object has lost none of its desirability today. - (AM.0045)


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