Reliquary Guardian Figure (Eyema-o-Byeri)
The Fang preserved ancestral skulls and bones in cylindrical containers with wooden figures bound to the lids, with the feet dangling over the edge, symbolically evoking the ancestor and guarding the relics.
Such figures may invoke Fang ideas about the connection between death and rebirth in their combination of infantile forms—such as a high, bulging forehead and shortened limbs—with more mature characteristics. The style of this object’s carver is recognizable; at least a half dozen other works by his hand can be found in other collections, though this example is arguably the most elegant.
The Fang abandoned their local religious beliefs on a large scale in the early twentieth century, when most of their reliquary figures entered Western collections. This work was once owned by two dealers who were influential tastemakers with crucial historical roles in promoting African art. The first was Paul Guillaume, a Parisian art dealer who sold African works to the famed modern artist Pablo Picasso, among others, until his death in 1934. Guillaume was among the first to link African works with European modernism, establishing Paris as a center of trade in African art. From there, it entered the collection of Julius Carlebach, a key player in New York’s emerging role as an important center for African art following World War II. The Brooklyn Museum purchased the work from his gallery in 1951.
- Artist: Master of Ntem
- Culture: Fang (Mvai subgroup)
- Medium: Wood, iron
- Place Made: Gabon
- Dates: mid-18th to mid-19th century
- Dimensions: 23 x 5 7/8 x 5 in. (58.4 x 14.9 x 12.7 cm) (show scale)
- Collections:Arts of Africa
- Museum Location: This item is on view in South Gallery, 1st Floor
- Accession Number: 51.3
- Credit Line: Frank L. Babbott Fund
- Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
- Caption: Master of Ntem. Reliquary Guardian Figure (Eyema-o-Byeri), mid-18th to mid-19th century. Wood, iron, 23 x 5 7/8 x 5 in. (58.4 x 14.9 x 12.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund, 51.3. Creative Commons-BY
- Catalogue Description: The object is a male ancestor figure carved from a single piece of wood wearing a thick copper alloy necklace. The figure was probably attached to a skull basket that was used in connection with ancestor worship. The object is in fair condition. It has several deep splits. One particular split runs from the left side of the buttock, up the spine, over the head, and into the forehead. There in another deep split on the back side of the head. The front half of the proper right foot is missing. From an unknown cause, dry-rot settled on the bottom of the figure under the seat. The original surface is gone leaving a concave depression. The object was fumigated with carbon tetrachloride; the hole was filled with gesso, retouched, and waxed.
- Record Completeness: Best (91%)