The Ndop Portrait of King Mishe miShyaang maMbul is a sculpture that dates back to ca. 1760-1780 in Mushenge, West Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since the 18th century, every Kuba king has been commemorated with a carved wooden portrait that is known as a ndop. They were particularly made of wood, possibly for the reason that it contrasts the metal sculptures that were more prevalent of the time. It suggests the difference of cold (metal) and warm (wood) materials to exclusify the power and ranking of the kings. The Ndop Portrait of King Mishe miShyaang maMbul stands as a one of six known wooden ndop portraits in the world.
Going along with the same concept as the Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut, the ndop portraits were not a carbon-copy image of the king, but rather a stylized conventional representation. The six found wooden ndop portraits were each crafted with different attributes that distinguished them from one another. The artists who carved the wooden pieces recorded history by capturing each kings’ personality and soul instead of their physical characteristics.
The one seen in the Brooklyn Museum has an exaggeration of the head which intentionally reinforces the wisdom, authority and intelligence of the king. The exaggeration of the head seems to be a common theme within the art of African royalties. The figure of the sculpture has no muscle definition and is seated cross-legged on a rectangular prism, concepts that overlap with the Seated Scribe. The king is known to be someone of high intelligence which is why he was not portrayed as muscular or athletic. The light complacently closed eyes and lips of the king gives off a peaceful and listless expression. Though facially serene, the figure is erect and sitting stiffly straight in a focused ninety degree angle posture—while holding a knife in the left hand. The virtuous and authoritative disposition, perhaps, represents the king as someone who was known for his idyllic qualities, jurisdiction and mindfulness.
The dark brown oil-shined wooden piece with elegantly smooth curved angles evokes a natural and calm quality that is satisfying to look at. The overall composition is balanced, for it is unnoticeably asymmetrical. The smooth quality of the piece is disrupted by small details of continuous patterns that are carved in his accessories to signify the wealth and high stature of the king. The belt worn is adorned with shell designs, the “jewels” on his clothing. He also wears shoulder ornaments, armbands and bracelets that have intricate designs that bring out his wealth. There is a drum before the king, suggesting his nobility for being able to play music. He wears a headdress that projects outward to signify his vocation as king. The specially detailed jewelry and clothing items carved into the wood piece are representations on his body that reinforces the common idea of wealth and prosperity of royalties.