Culture/People: Yombe or Vili
Place: Zaire
Media: Wood, glass, and pigment
Dims: 4.75 x 2.25 x 2.75 in.
Date: late 19th C.
RTC No: AF0015
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


This very beautiful Yombe head may well have been cut out of a larger figure, or even more probable it was carved as a modello. It would be hard to find a more elegant example of extreme lower Congo art. It is delicately conceived down to each striation of the carver’s knife and exquisite in as such details as the glass inset eyes, which are typical of the best of Yombe figural art. A curious feature is an indented hole with thread marks set at the back of the neck that later on may have caused the split which runs up the back of the head and into the headdresses proper. The patina on the bottom of the head is equally as old as the carving itself, which supports the idea that the head was an individual carving rather than a fragment of a full figure. Despite its small size it is clearly the work of a master and to this day. —Ralph T. Coe, 2009

This piece was used ceremonially, as a representation of an important ancestor figure or the first originator of the people. The sculpture’s intense facial expression, that it fit in the palm of my hand, the smoothness of it, the larger facial features, all seemed perfect to have as an object to learn more about. I loved the essence of this piece, that even the crack on the back of it could not deter me from it. —Roan Mulholland, Hands-On Student Curator, 2018

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