Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Unknown Artist ; Artist Unidentified


Reliquary Figure (Mbulu-Ngulu)

Creation Date

ca. 1900


early 20th century


20 3/4 in. x 11 1/8 in. x 1 3/4 in. (52.71 cm x 28.26 cm x 4.45 cm)

Object Type


Creation Place

Africa, Gabon, Republic of Congo

Medium and Support

wood, copper, brass on wooden base

Credit Line

Museum Purchase, Florence C. Quinby Fund, in memory of Henry Cole Quinby, Honorary Degree, 1916


Public Domain

Accession Number

This reliquary figure represents an idealized face demonstrating the power of its owner’s ancestors. Once kept with a box containing bones of these ancestors and used for ancestral veneration, these sculptures are now used to invoke and celebrate precolonial tradition. With colonization and conversion to Christianity in the early to mid-twentieth century, many people in Kota regions sold their reliquary figures to foreign collectors, leaving fewer historical works in these regions. Such changes indicate how various people have transformed the uses of reliquary figures.

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