Honouring Ancestors

Honouring Ancestors

Reliquaries of the Kota Peoples of Gabon

The Kota peoples of modern Gabon and Republic of Congo honoured their ancestors by produced elaborate reliquaries characterised by an oversized head composed of radically simplified features. We were delighted to present this fine example in our inaugural Form Through Time auction.

The making of figures to honour ancestors and allow continued communication with them was once widespread. The Kota peoples of modern Gabon and Republic of Congo produced particularly elaborate reliquaries which reduced the human form to a distinctive flattened shape. Their use of wood and hammered metal is completely unique among African sculptural forms.


LOT 14 | KOTA RELIQUARY | GABON | £10,000 - £15,000 + fees
LOT 14 | KOTA RELIQUARY | GABON | Sold for £17,500*


View Lot 14 ⇒


The key characteristic of these icons is the oversized head composed of radically simplified features. No two were the same however, the Kota artists worked within some basic rules based on tradition but enjoyed significant freedom to adapt their creation. The figure was accentuated with strips of copper & brass, this use of metal not only heightened associations of wealth and prosperity, but its shiny surface was also considered to scare off malevolent spirits.




It was around the end of the 19th century when the first Kota reliquaries began arriving in Europe. They became amongst the first sub-Saharan artworks to be displayed in the west, quickly becoming highly sought after by collectors. The avant-garde artists living in Paris in the early 20th century were particularly fascinated by the radical abstraction of the human form that the reliquaries embodied. Picasso & Giacometti both owned one, with the former’s Nude with Raised Arms being directly influenced by his example.



Auction Information



Wednesday 8th June 2022  | Live Online


View the auction results ⇒





Lyon & Turnbull offers four auctions of Antiquities annually; with sculpture from ancient Greece and Rome placed into biannual dedicated sections of our Five Centuries sales and Fine Antiquities offered in our biannual Form Through Time editorial sales. This ensures that the broad range of Antiquities offered at Lyon and Turnbull each reach the correct market.


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Alex Tweedy



0131 557 8844






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