The Bena Lulua made distinctive carvings with elaborate patterns engraved on the surface alluding to extremely complex body scarification. The concentric circles and spirals probably allude to the ripples created by stones thrown into water. This figure represents an important chief, for his neck is covered with strands of rare beads and his waist is encircled by a leopard-skin garment that could be worn only by chiefs. A conch shell carved on the figure's back held a powerful potion. Figures like this were taken by warriors into battle to strengthen morale and help repel the enemy.
Artist Bena Lulua, African
  • Figure
Date between 1875 and 1900
Medium carved and patinated wood and shell
Dimensions Overall: 19 7/8 × 5 1/4 × 5 1/2 inches (50.5 × 13.3 × 14 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, with funds from L & R Entwistle and Co., Ralph Harman Booth Bequest Fund, Abraham Borman Family Fund, Joseph H. Boyer Memorial Fund, Joseph M. de Grimme Memorial Fund, General Endowment Fund, New Endowment Fund, Benson and Edith Ford Fund, K. T. Keller Fund, Laura H. Murphy Fund, Mary Martin Semmes Fund, Barbara L. Scripps Fund, Edna Burian Skelton Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Conrad H. Smith Memorial Fund, Henry E. and Consuelo S. Wenger Foundation Fund, and Matilda R. Wilson Fund.
Accession Number 82.49
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African: Journey of Life N105, Level 1 (see map)
Marks Old sale labels and accession numbers as follow: Outside of proper left foot, white paint: 11?52 Inside of proper left heel, paper label: Ratton Paris Sole of proper right foot, red paint: 5854:06 Sole of proper right foot, round white paper label: ENTWISTLE LONDON, \in ink:! XO66
1905-06, Leo Frobenius (Congo expedition);
Museum fur Volkerkunde (Hamburg, Germany);
Charles Ratton (Paris, France);
Helena Rubinstein [Princess Gourielli] (Paris, France & New York, USA);
Comte Jean-Jacques de Launoit (Brussels, Belgium).
(L & R Entwistle and Company, Ltd., London, England);
1982-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
African and Oceanic Art: Parts One and Two: The Collection of Helena Rubenstein. Sales cat., Sotheby-Parke-Bernet. New York, 1966, pp. 210-211, no. 277.

Bulletin of the DIA 61, no. 3 (1982/83): p. 6 (ill.).

African Masterworks In The Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington and London: The Detroit Institute of Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, cat. no. 74.

Joubert, Helene, ed. Hélèna Rubinstein: Madame's Collection. Exh. cat., Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac. Paris, 2019, p. 138, (ill. 119).