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Unknown Maker
Harp (Kundi)
20th century

By the late 19th century, European visitors to the small, centralized kingdoms of the Mangbetu noted the presence of decorated harps. Owned by Mangbetu aristocrats such as kings, historians and diviners and used by resident harpists, the harps could be given as gifts and functioned as both musical instruments and prestige objects.

This harp features a woman standing on top of the skin-covered resonator, or sounding box; her curved posture allows her body to serve as the harp¿s neck. The figure¿s elongated head reflects the Mangbetu practice of gently shaping babies¿ heads to their most beautiful length. The effect is further heightened by the tall, slightly flared hairstyle (known as tumburu) historically worn by Mangbetu aristocratic women.

The addition of the human figure to Mangbetu objects such as pottery or musical instruments became more common in the colonial period, in part due to European collectors¿ preference for anthropomorphic designs. The function of Mangbetu harps also shifted as they became increasingly decorative prestige objects rather than fully functional musical instruments.

For another example of a figurative harp in the Lang collection, see the Punu peoples¿ ngombi (M84-086).

 
Unknown Maker
Mangbetu peoples
Harp (Kundi)
20th century
skin, wood, string, wire
height / width / depth: 31.00 x 56.00 x 16.00 cm; 12.20 x 22.05 x 6.30 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-121

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