Artists from the kingdom of Kongo-a vast swath of Central Africa that today encompasses the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola-were responsible for outstanding creative achievements. With the influx of Portuguese, Dutch, and Italian merchants, missionaries, and explorers, Kongo developed a unique artistic tradition that blended European iconography with powerful indigenous art forms. An initially positive engagement with Europe in the 15th century turned turbulent in the wake of later displacement, civil war, and the slave trade-and many of the artworks created in Kongo reflect the changing times.
This comprehensive study is the first major catalogue to explore Kongo's history, art forms, and cultural identity before, during, and after contact with Europe. Objects range from 15th-century "mother-and-child" figures, which reflect a time when Europeans and their Christian motifs were viewed favorably, to fearsome mangaaka, power figures that conveyed strength in the midst of the kingdom's dissolution. Lavishly illustrated with new photography and multiple views of three-dimensional works, this book presents the fascinatingly complex artistic legacy of one of Africa's most storied kingdoms.