Rectangular Sculpture with Six Figures



Rectangular Sculpture with Six Figures




late 19th-early 20th Century


Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Loango


2 1/2 x 1 3/4 x 1 in. (6.4 x 4.4 x 2.5 cm)

Object Number



From the mid-19th century through the first two decades of the 20th, the Vili peoples of the coastal region of Loango (situated within present-day Democratic Republic of Congo) created ivory sculptures for sale to Europeans. Many carvings cover entire elephant tusks with a spiraling procession of small figures. Others are small enough to fit in the palm of the hand or slip into a pocket for easy transport.

This tiny, superbly carved sculpture features relief scenes of the colonial encounter between Europeans and Africans. On one side of the carving, a rural African trader wearing a cap and a long wrapped skirt shakes hands on a business deal with an urban African businessman wearing elements of Scottish dress, the urban fashion-forward dress of the day. On the reverse side, a smartly dressed European gentleman addresses an elite African woman using a long-standing indigenous Vili gesture of respect and mourning: hand-to-chin. More difficult to interpret are the naked figures on the sides of the sculpture. The modest figure covering his genitals suggests missionary-instilled attitudes toward nudity. The figure's pose is reminiscent of European Christian representations of Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden and may be based on printed imagery featured in mission Bibles. On the reverse side, another naked figure is shown dropping off a wall, perhaps a reference to escape from slavery, by then an "officially" banned practice.

Credit Line

Museum purchase


MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, 2008 - December 1, 2014|
MCCM Permanent Collection Galleries, August 6, 2016 - September 1, 2016|
Sleight of Hand, Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, September 10 - December 4, 2016|
MCCM Permanent Collection Galleries, January 17, 2017 - Present|

MCCM Newsletter, December 2007 - February 2008.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum: Highlights of the Collections (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2011), 109.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2014.
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On View



“Rectangular Sculpture with Six Figures,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed June 3, 2020,

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