Rome Or Venice. Late Seventeenth Century.


Height: 39” (99 cm) with platform replaced; Width: 16” (40.6 cm); Depth: 10" (25.4 cm).

Of limewood, painted and gilded. The classically posed figure fully carved with black painted decoration to the body, midriff and part of arm undecorated, these areas originally clothed. The figure stands in high boots with pointed toes ‘à la turque.’ All resting on a later black plinth with molded edge. Repairs to lower arms and part of leg and foot. 

This beautifully drawn sculpture is unusual for several reasons. Firstly, it is clear from the voids in the decoration that it was designed to be dressed in detachable textile robes, a tradition that on Italian sculptures is usually observable on fully clad Neapolitan creche figures, of much smaller scale. Secondly the size is also unusual, as it is not full, or nearly full size, like the renditions that formed a decorative function flanking doorways in Roman and Venetian palaces; instead it is a smaller, more considered study, devoid of exaggeration, the head being particularly noble and realistic in appearance.

The classical pose suggests that it is based upon an ancient precedent; the figure’s robes may have also been in tune with this idea, and resembled a Roman toga. Certainly depictions of Africans in European art extend back to antiquity, and appear in Ancient Greek sculpture and pottery painting, ancient Roman floor mosaics and wall frescoes. Black Africans were widely described as “Aethiops” (Ethiopians) in classical Greece, their skin color being the primary identifying characteristic in descriptions and artistic depictions. As was the case in ancient Egypt, the Greeks “[showed] no trace of color-prejudice”, and black Africans were integrated in various levels of Greek society.”1 They held positions of writers, philosophers, athletes, military commanders, freemen as well as slaves.

1. Snowden Jr., Frank M. “The Negro In Ancient Greece.” American Anthropologist 50 (1948): 31-44. American Anthropological Association. American Anthropological Association. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.

Full research report available on request.