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A Highly Carved Chair, Chokwe Peoples, Angola

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Announcement!  This item will be available at auction from Neal Auction Company on January 26th, 2019.  Preview exhibition is currently underway.  Click here to see our listings at

This chair is in untouched condition, with its original leather seat.  It is in the style of one that was in the Rockefeller Memorial Collection and now at the Metropolitan museum (see below for an image of the Rockefeller Collection chair).   While not exactly alike, you will notice many of the figures of men holding hands on the crest rail, and figures on the top of the chair stiles, are all related.   The carving on the feet rails is quite ambitious, and covers many figures, animals notwithstanding.
The interesting thing to me is the four human feet that support this chair, which are reminiscent of the chairs with feet that were found inside the Egyptian pyramids.    This chair is complete, with no alterations or repairs whatsoever, in untouched condition, and certainly late 19th, early 20th century. 

Notes from the Metropolitan Museum’s website:
In many societies of Central Africa, such as the Chokwe and related peoples like the Songo and the Ovimbundu, functional artifacts are transformed into prestige objects that commemorate the power and status of the chief. Chokwe chiefs possess many elaborately carved articles, including ceremonial weapons, staffs of office, tobacco pipes, and seats of office like this example in the Museum's collection.

Over the course of numerous encounters with European traders as early as the seventeenth century, Chokwe chiefs appropriated the design of certain types of Western artifacts. The seats of office, or "thrones," of Chokwe chiefs, with backs, leather-covered seats, and decorative brass tacks, are modeled upon European chairs. The decoration of the chair, however, remains distinctly Chokwe in style. The elaborate figurative scenes depicted on this and other seats of office are designed as symbolic microcosms of life and represent the breadth of a leader's concerns and responsibilities. The back uprights contain scenes from the spiritual aspect of life, including depictions of ancestors or chiefs...

The rows of figures along the stretchers at the base of the chair are carved representations of scenes from everyday life.  Images of hunting or trading are common... The overall organization of these scenes creates a united visual narrative emphasizing the social harmony and continuity that is ultimately achieved through following the enlightened leadership of the chair's owner, namely, the chief.

The Chokwe kingdom rose to power during the late nineteenth century in the broad expanse of open savanna in the southern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Angola. As the Chokwe population expanded, they eventually conquered the previously dominant Lunda empire, which declined after the abolition of the slave trade in the 1830s. The Chokwe peoples thrived primarily because of the profitable trade of ivory, wax, and rubber with the Portuguese. Chokwe chairs are among the few African objects not carved from a single piece of wood, but are instead assembled in parts.
Height: 32 in.  Seat Height: 15 1/2 in.
Width: 15 1/2 in.  Depth: 16 1/4 in.

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