Central Africa, Angola or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chokwe peoples, ca. late 19th century CE. A rare, well-preserved wooden stool featuring a ring-shaped base, a slightly indented seat, and a seated female figure who crouches against the base and holds the seat on the top of her head. The figure is a nude woman with exposed genitalia and breasts. Cross-hatched, herring-boned, linear, and diamond-pattern motifs wrap around her legs, shoulders, torso, and face, signifying ritual scarification. Brass rings and a thin piece of wood through her septum give her ornament. Her face has deeply incised, almond-shaped eyes narrowed to a slit, each set within a deep ring on the face; a small nose; and a thick-lipped, raised mouth. Size: 8.25" W x 13.5" H (21 cm x 34.3 cm)
The Chokwe Kingdom rose to power in the late 19th century due to lucrative trade with Portugal in rubber, wax, and ivory. Monarchs and other leaders sat in decorated stools like this one, part of a practice of enthronement amongst many Sub-Saharan groups. The figures who adorn Chokwe stools are often called "caryatids", channeling the elegant carvings of women in Greek architecture. The woman on this stool, however, serves a very different purpose to the Greek ladies: she represents a departed ancestor, who provides guidance and protection. Here, she holds her head in sorrow, worrying that her descendants are not honoring her as they should. Her position underneath the seat shows that she symbolically supports the person seated upon it.
See a similar example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/311006
Provenance: ex-Sotheby's, New York "Tribal Art" auction (sale 6368, November 24, 1992, lot 145)
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Seat has an old repair consisting of a metal strip nailed in place over a crack in the wood. Small signs of wear on the rest of the surface commensurate with age, including very light scratching. Deep, rich patina on surface.