Unlike many figural works in much of African art, the Mangbetu peoples' works do not represent ancestors or spirits, but are largely decorative efforts to elevate religious and everyday objects. Their figures are recognizable for their elongated heads and crown-like hairstyles. Up until the early 20th century, children's heads were bandaged as to appear stretched—a mark of distinguish. Mangbetu women today still wear similar hairstyles, shaped by netting. The incised designs on this vessel likely reflect the custom of women painting their bodies with a black substance made from the juice of gardenia fruit, decorating themselves with crosses, stripes and stars during ceremonies.

Depiction of King Munza of the Mangbetu peoples dancing during a ceremony, illustrating the hairstyle and body decoration seen in the present lot

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