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Copyright
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Caryatid stool

Accession Number
2005/1.204

Title
Caryatid stool

Artist(s)
Chokwe

Artist Nationality
Chokwe (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
2nd half of 19th century

Medium & Support
wood, glass beads, and brass tacks

Dimensions
7 15/16 in x 8 ⅞ in x 8 11/16 in (20.16 cm x 22.54 cm x 22.07 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Label copy
Imported brass tacks line the circumference of the stool's seat and base in perfectly arranged tiers. Brass or 'Chokwe gold' is the sole prerogative of royalty and divination experts. Since the 17th century, Chokwe rulers established trade relationships with Portuguese merchants and later exchanged ivory, rubber, and slaves in return for guns, cloth, beads and brass from the 18th to mid-19th centuries. Chokwe captives were shipped to Brazil to labor on sugar cane and cotton plantations. 

The couple sitting beneath the tack-studded stool is an abstracted representation of Queen Lweji and King Chibinda Ilunga, the original 16th century founders of the Chokwe nation. Stools such as this are not merely furniture, but act as receptables for the spirit of former chiefs. As such, royal seats are power infused obejcts that protect living rulers. The back-to-back symmetry of the figures and the mirror geometry of the circular seat and base are coded designs, which reflect the divine king or mwanangana's double presence on the earth and spirit realms. 

Stools like this rarely come out in public. At stately events relating to political succession, citwamo stools have animal skins over them, concealing the iconography from view. This single-block stool is carved by a songi or master court sculptor. The power and public secrecy of the stool is such that songi carve royal seats in seclusion away from non-initiates and women. While sculpting, professional carvers strive for minimal design or utombo, which can capture the complexities of Chokwe cultural values.

Subject matter
Stools like this rarely come out in public. At stately events, stools have animal skins over them, concealing the iconography from view. This stool is carved by a songi or master court sculptor. The power and public secrecy of the stool is such that songi carve royal seats in seclusion away from non-initiates and women. While sculpting, professional carvers strive for minimal design or utombo, which can capture the complexities of Chokwe cultural values.

Physical Description
This hour-glass shaped stool is supported by two caryatid figures who sit in a pose of lamentation—crouched with head in hands. Scarified patterned abstracted tears spill from their lower eyelids. Brass studs adorn the perimeter of the stool’s seat, base, and figures. Both figures wear strings of black, red and white beads around their necks.

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type
stool

Collection Area
African

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
ancestors
commemorative sculpture
founders (originators)
slavery
symbols of office or status

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved