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........Marie-Catherine Daffos

........Jean-Luc Estournel

  The rediscovered ndop of king Miko mi-Kyeen
  Kept for more than 75 years in an old private collection, the "ndop" of king Miko mi-Kyeen who ruled over the Kuba people from 1901 to 1902  had been rediscovered.

it had been sold for 45 500 Euros) by Maître Cornette de Saint Cyr  at Paris Hôtel Drouot room 4 on Monday October 29,  2001.



Kuba ( Congo: ex Zaïre)
Wood, height 62cms. 

Portrait of a king wearing classical royal attributes traditional shoody colf, principal belt with three rows of cowries, secret belt, bracelets...., sitting on a plinth decorated with a ntshuum anyim type motif. He is holding his ibol in his left hand; a cluster of palm nuts. 
Although it has obviously been cleaned, in the bottom of the carving strokes there remain traces of the tukula with which it was coated. This contributes to its light orangey-brown patina. 
Repairs to some slight deterioration heve been attempted by western hands.

Obtained in 1925 from an ex-colonial administrator in Kasai by the current owner's parents-in-law who lived there themselves until the end of the 30's.

In 1982, in a first report on his studies of royal statues in his work of reference "Royal Kuba Art" Fr. J. Cornet, then General Delegate of the National Museums of Zaire, established a chronological list of the Kings and the royal symbols that they chose. Referring to King Miko mi-Kyeen who reigned in 1091-1902 having chosen the palm nut cluster as his ibol, he wondered if the ndop had really existed as nobody at court at the time of his enquiry remembered it and no copy had been noted.

This sculpture is situated stylistically in line with those of the Kings Miko Mabiintsh and Kot a-Mbweeky. Numerous similarities permit us to imagine that it was made some years later, by the same hand or at least by the master of the same workshop, adding some innovations of which the principal is the migration of the ibol to the left hand in place of the sword (present in all subsequent sculptures of Kings). 
It benefits, therefore, from all the reasons to be considered as the original ndop of King Miko mi-Kyeen, probably carved between the death of Miko mi-Kyeen in 1902 and the beginning of the dispersal of the royal tressure by his successor Kot a-Pey in 1908.

We must take this opportunity to thank Fr. Cornet who, without divulging entirely the substance of his coming work on the Kuba royal statues (as everyone will understand), kindly gave us a résumé of his recent work, including that on the statue of Miko mi-Kyeen which then occupies  the tenth place in the chronology of the currently known royal ndops.

Regarding a Kuba royal statue.

The royal statues of the Bakuba kingdom have always attracted the attention of historians and the technicians of art history. The progressive discovery of these exceptionally beautiful statues, their enigmatic nature, their sacred character, the unity of their form following an evident evolution, their surprising dispersion and their countless imitations pose, even today, many and puzzling questions.

Following Olbrechts, Van Sina, Maesen and others, I have proposed, in a chapter of my book on royal Kuba art, to start from a new basis: a deeper study of sculptural form. A new chronology obtained from this analysis leads to propositions of reorganization not only of the chronological situation of several statues, but also of the attribution of the names of the kings. My conclusions have astounded more than a few and a certain reticence has lead me to search for new arguments to solve a range of newly raised problems.

The appearance of a little known statue obliges me to summarize here an almost finished work which will put forward, I hope, convincing arguments to back up new perspectives.

The principal theory consists in establishing a clear separation between two categories of statues representing the Kuba kings. 
- Some, the older statues, are of a sacred nature, called ndop. These I call royal statues. 
- The others, created more recently in a very different environment, are the statues of kings.

Royal statues can be broken down into four groups, differentiated essentially by their style.

The first group comprises at present three of the oldest statues. They show three individuals: the two kings Misha Mishyaang a-Mbul (probable) (Brooklyn Museum) and Kot a-Ntshey(Tervuren Museum) , between them a miniature statue which is of the regent Tulantshedy Matek. The statue of Misha Mishyaang is so perfect that it cannot but be the product of a long artistic tradition to date absolutely unknown.

The second group is also composed of three statues: the kings Misha Pelyeeng a-Ntshe (Museum of Mankind-British Museum) and Mbopelyeeng a-Ntshe (Museum of Mankind-British Museum), whose order of artistic evolution differs from the chronological order - to these must be added a copy of the statue of the founder of the dynasty Shyaam a-Mbul a-Ngwoong(Museum of Mankind-British Museum). The study of the first two statues seems to prove that the ndop was not made by the king which it represents: the nature of these statues is commemorative.

Two statues form the third group: the kings Kot a-Mbul (Kinshasa Museum) and Miko mi-Mbul (Tervuren Museum) . 

Should the statue of Mbopey Mabiintsh ma-Mbul which is in Copenhagen be added to this group? Unfortunately this statue seems not to be authentic.

The fourth and last group is enhanced by four statues: the two kings Miko Mabiintsh maMbul et Kot a-Mbweeky II (Private Collection), followed by a miniature statue of a regent and a statue of a king, Miko mi-Kyeen.

With this last statue, we come to the period of the king Kot a-Pey, who starts a series of statues of a completely different significance. After having dispersed the treasure of the ancient statues, the king permitted copies of statues to be executed outside the constraints of the traditional royal workshops.

One of the conclusions of this study is that the statue of Miko mi-Kyeen is the last of the genuinely authentic ndops.


...Textes & Images : (c) marie-catherine daffos & jean-luc estournel / 1997 / 2014

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