Mangbetu Royal Art and Herbert Lang, 1902-1906

by Enid Schildkrout
Museum for African Art (formerly American Museum of Natural History)

King Munza of Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Drawing by Georg Schweinfurth.

When Westerners first visited the region now called northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, they brought back elaborate accounts of the peoples living there. The first European description of the Mangbetu, in 1870, singled them out for their sumptuous court life, distinctive style of personal adornment and fine decorative art. Early reports gave no hint that Mangbetu artists ever represented the human form. Soon after 1900, however, the Mangbetu became known in Europe for a particular style of art that portrayed the bound and elongated head and body painting then fashionable among their rulers.