A king figure (ndop)

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A king figure (ndop) of the Kuba, Kongo. Figure sits crosslegged on a square platform (yiing) with geometric patterns. In front of the king is three-row game board (lele). Holding a ceremonial horn in his right hand. Wearing a distinctive projecting hoe-shaped headddress. Other key items of regalia include the representation of a circular neck ring, cane shoulder hoops; fine shiny patina, several agecracks in particular onn the top of the head.

The ndop statues might be the the most revered of all Kuba art forms. The ndop (literally meaning “statue”) are a genre of figurative wood sculpture that portrays important Kuba leaders throughout the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Art historians believe that there are seven ndop statues of historical significance in Western museums. These seven are significant because the lives of the nyim they portray were celebrated in oral histories that were recorded and written down by early European visitors, so we know the most about them

Ndop, wooden carving of King Shyaam aMbul aNgoong, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), late 18th century, wood, 55 cm high (British Museum)

You can travel to  the British Museum in England or the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium to see ndop.  Ndop sculptures that are on view at  the British Museum were brought to Europe from Africa by Hungarian ethnographer Emil Torday. Torday and other early visitors to the Kuba court documented oral traditions related to artwork. Art historians have since tried to reconstruct and sort out these early accounts; they use the sculptures themselves to interpret precolonial Kuba history.

Ndop sculpture have rounded contours creating forms that define the head, shoulders and stomach, and also feature a defined collarbone. While the relative naturalism may appear to have been informed by an artist’s one-to-one observation of the nyim, ndop sculptures aren’t exact likenesses; they are not actually created from direct observation. Instead, cultural conventions and visual precedents guide the artists in making the sculpture. The expression on the face, the position of the body, and the regalia were meant to faithfully represent the ideal of a king—but not an individual King. For example, the facial features of each statue follow sculpting conventions and do not represent features of a specific individual. All figures are sculpted using a one-to-three proportion—the head of the statue was sculpted to be one third the size of the total statue. Kuba artists emphasized the head because it was considered to be the seat of intelligence, a valued ideal.

kuba ndop sculpture
Detail, Portrait of King Mishe miShyaang maMbul, detail of the patina for comparison.
(Brooklyn Museum)

How are we able to identify each ndop, then? There are specific attributes that link each ndop to named individuals. All ndop sculpture would feature a geometric motif and an emblem (ibol),  chosen by the nyim when he was installed as a leader and commissioned his ndop. The  geometric motif pattern and the ibol served as identifying symbols of his reign and was sculpted in prominent relief on the front of each base. The ibol is a signifier that gives the ndop its particular identity, making it clear who the sculpture portrays and what reign it represents. A drum with a severed hand is the ibol for Mishe miShyaang maMbul’s reign, and that helps us identify the sculpture as his likeness.

Other styles or conventions that were followed by sculptors of Ndop can be found in royal regalia such as belts, armbands, bracelets, shoulder ornaments, and a unique projecting headdress, called a shody. The arms of each ndopextend vertically at either side of the torso, with the left hand grasping the handle of a ceremonial knife (ikul) and the right hand resting on the knee. Artists decorated the surface of the sculpture by carving representations of what was conventionally worn; the finely chiseled details correspond to objects that represent the  prerogative and prestige of the nyim.

The ndop of Mishe miShyaang maMbul is part of a larger genre of figurative wood sculpture in Kuba art. These sculptures were commissioned by Kuba leaders or nyim to preserve  their accomplishments for posterity. Because transmission of knowledge in this part of Africa is through oral narrative, names and histories of the past are often lost. The ndop sculptures serve as important markers of cultural ideals. They also reveal a chronological lineage through their visual signifiers. Source by Roger D. Arnold,A king figure (ndop) of the Kuba, Kongo
Additional Reading
Binkley, David A. and Patricia Darish. Kuba. Milan: 5 Continents Press, 2010.
LaGamma, Alisa. Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.
Siegmann, William and Joseph Adande. African Art: A Century At The Brooklyn Museum. New York: Prestel, 2009.
Vansina, Jan. “Recording the Oral History of the Bakuba.” Journal of African History 1:1,  1960,  43 – 61.

3.600 – 4.000,- Euro

Height: 56,5 cm
Weight: 3,6 kg

Additional information

Weight 3.6 kg