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Artwork Details

circa 1890
wood, copper, and cowrie shells
9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in x 6 5/16 in (23.5 cm x 14 cm x 16 cm);9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in x 6 5/16 in (23.5 cm x 14 cm x 16 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This intricately carved wooden cup is attributed to the Bushoong, a Kuba subgroup, who reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carved Kuba cups assume many forms: anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, or two-headed. Although ostensibly a utilitarian object used for drinking, this cup functioned more as an object of prestige and display. Known as a mbwoong ntey, this cup would have been used in the daily lives of the king and his royal court. Generally, these cups held palm wine; but, on certain occasions could have contained ritual libations or medicinal preparations.
This cup’s cowrie shell ornamentation and copper gilding reveal that, as a prestige object, this cup was intended to serve as a visual tool by which its elite patron projected his self-image and communicated his social status to all those around him.

Maurer, Evan M. and Niangi Batulukisi.  Spirits Embodied:  Art of the Congo, Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection.  Minneapolis:  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999.

Physical Description:

This richly detailed, carved wooden cup has been sculpted into the form of a human head. The head’s bell-shaped coiffure and facial details are typical of Kuba masks and figurines. The face features almond-shaped eyes, a protruding mouth and nose, disproportionately small ears, and eyebrows and temples that have been engilded with tiny copper staples. The neck and the coiffure bear elaborate diamond-shaped and diagonal-lined patterns which have been further embellished by cowrie shells, embedded in resin.

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