Skip to main content



Artwork Details

circa 1910
5 1/4 in x 3 7/16 in x 5 13/16 in (13.3 cm x 8.8 cm x 14.8 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This intricately carved wooden cup is attributed to the Wongo, who resided in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carved Wongo drinking vessels assume multiple anthropomorphic forms: a head, a double head, an entire figure, a half-figure, or faces decorating the sides. This cup features three human faces carved in relief while the rest of the surface is fully adorned with an elaborate diamond-shaped pattern, revealing a masterful control of the knife.
Although ostensibly a utilitarian object, a cup of this caliber of workmanship functioned more as an object of prestige and display, and would have been used to drink palm wine on ceremonial occasions by esteemed members of society: chiefs, dignitaries, and practitioners of traditional medicine. Thus, 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.

A History of Art in Africa.  2nd Edition.  Eds. Monica Visona, Robin Poynor, and Herbert Cole.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 
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 finely detailed, wooden Wongo cup bears three anthropomorphic faces carved in relief: a large, central face and two smaller, diamond-shaped faces to either side. The remaining areas of the body of the cup are completely covered in an elaborate diamond-shape pattern, a characteristic commonly seen in Wongo and Kuba objects. The cup’s faces exhibit the stylistic influence of the neighboring Kuba, as evidenced by the scarifications on the central face that extend from its temples to its ears; the large, triangular nose; and the half closed coffeebean-shaped eyes. The other two faces closely resemble the center face but lack ears and scarifications. The cup has a curved handle while the interior is smooth and polished.

Usage Rights:

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.