The Art of Conversion

The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo

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  • Book Info
    The Art of Conversion
    Book Description:

    Between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the west central African kingdom of Kongo practiced Christianity and actively participated in the Atlantic world as an independent, cosmopolitan realm. Drawing on an expansive and largely unpublished set of objects, images, and documents, Cecile Fromont examines the advent of Kongo Christian visual culture and traces its development across four centuries marked by war, the Atlantic slave trade, and, finally, the rise of nineteenth-century European colonialism. By offering an extensive analysis of the religious, political, and artistic innovations through which the Kongo embraced Christianity, Fromont approaches the country's conversion as a dynamic process that unfolded across centuries.The African kingdom's elite independently and gradually intertwined old and new, local and foreign religious thought, political concepts, and visual forms to mold a novel and constantly evolving Kongo Christian worldview. Fromont sheds light on the cross-cultural exchanges between Africa, Europe, and Latin America that shaped the early modern world, and she outlines the religious, artistic, and social background of the countless men and women displaced by the slave trade from central Africa to all corners of the Atlantic world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1873-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Central African warriors stage a martial dance in the shadow of a church and a monumental cross (see Figure 2, Plate 1). Mourners at a funeral surround a catafalque with incense, Catholic hymns, and animal offerings (see Figure 18, Plate 10). A friar blesses a wedding under a veranda in front of an African crowd dressed in luxurious textiles and garments imported from around the globe (see Figure 56). Early modern Kongo Christianity comes to life in the watercolors of the “Missione in prattica,” an illustrated manuscript composed around 1750 by Bernardino d’Asti, a veteran of the Capuchin order’s central...

  6. 1 Sangamentos Performing the Advent of Kongo Christianity
    (pp. 21-64)

    A vociferous crowd of men armed with swords and shields march across an open plaza toward a modest church (Figure 2 [Plate 1]). The beat of a long drum, the chime of a marimba, and the blow of two ivory horns orchestrate the group’s acrobatic steps. In rhythm, the bare-chested dancers swing large swords, raise shields of different shapes, shout out loud, and flash wide-open eyes in an awesome display of strength and determination. At the head of the group, a richly dressed man kneels in the shadow of a monumental cross. He wears ampucap enhanced with a...

  7. 2 Under the Sign of the Cross in the Kingdom of Kongo Religious Conversion and Visual Correlation
    (pp. 65-108)

    At the feet of a monumental cross installed in front of a church, a Capuchin friar, in full ecclesiastical garb, presides over the office of the dead in eighteenth-century Kongo (Figure 18, Plate 10). The friar and twomestres, interpreters for the Capuchins and local leaders of the church, sing the service from a book, accompanied by two children carrying the incense and the holy water. A fifth man is holding a ceremonial cross at the head of the tomb. A black pall inscribed with a white cross covers the grave around which all are gathered, and a candle is...

  8. 3 The Fabric of Power, Wealth, and Devotion Clothing and Regalia of the Christian Kongo
    (pp. 109-172)

    A crowd of men clad in colorful fabrics, weapons held high, marches downhill from the outskirts of a town toward a Capuchin friar and his retinue (Figure 42 [Plate 17]). Their richly attired leader walks one step in front of the group in the shade of a red umbrella that an attendant diligently holds above his head. The shade, the attentive servant, and elaborate items of regalia and clothing set the man apart from the rest of the group. He wears ampu(pl.zimpu) cap of status on his head and ankutu(pl.nkutu) net over his shoulders;...

  9. 4 Negotiating Time and Space Architecture, Rituals, and Power in the Christian Kongo
    (pp. 173-214)

    Dance, regalia, objects of devotion, liturgy, and mythology come together in thesangamentoand the funeral ceremony vividly recorded in Bernardino d’Asti’s vignettes in the “Missione in prattica” (see Figures 2 [Plate 1] and 18 [Plate 10]). Framed in a space that a church and a monumental cross render visibly Christian, they enact correlations that defined the Catholic Kongo. The religious, political, and social changes embedded in the visual and symbolic manifestations of Kongo Catholicism unfolded in an environment that itself had been transformed by the kingdom’s conversion. Churches and towering crosses created a politically and religiously charged landscape that...

  10. 5 From Catholic Kingdom to the Heart of Darkness The Fate of Kongo Christianity in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 215-266)

    In 1866, Joseph Poussot, missionary of the French Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (C.S.Sp.), known as the Spiritans, visited the region of Soyo as his order initiated its Congo mission. The Spiritans took up the apostolic prefecture the Capuchins had left vacant since their forced departure from Luanda in the 1830s in the wake of the abolishment of regular religious orders in Portugal. This symbolically momentous event for the history of Portugal and the overseas regions under its clerical influence formally ended the Capuchin mission to central Africa, already in crisis...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 267-272)

    From the arrival of Europeans on their shores circa 1500 to the unraveling of their kingdom in the late nineteenth century, the people of the Kongo embraced the novelties that a widening world brought to their shores. Eyewitness accounts in written and visual form and locally crafted artworks testify to the sophisticated reflection through which central African men and women brought together and transformed local and foreign thought, materials, and images into the new worldview of Kongo Christianity. In turn, these documents also showcase the active and to a large extent efficacious engagement of the Kongo elite in the diplomatic,...

  12. Index
    (pp. 273-283)