Showing posts tagged art

Retroactive Erasure: The Black Madonnas of Europe


One of the most baffling failures of logic in all of academia is the flagrant attachment to the unsupported claim that the Black Virgins of Europe, of which there are well over 300, are not black because they are Black. For some reason, their inability to explain her dark complexion is combined with the adamant position that it must be explained. That, however, has not stopped most scholars on the subject of the Black Madonnas asserting that whatever the reason for her skin color, it could not possibly be because the artists intended to paint her skin that color, and if they did, it must be some other reason than because that was how she looked.

imageThis Madonna in Tindari, Sicily, dates from well before the 8th century, and the Latin inscription reads, literally, “I am black”. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be a message art historians want to hear.

There was very little academic interest in the supposed “anomaly” of the Black Madonnas of Europe until relatively recently. Most art historians, if they mentioned them at all, attributed her complexion to age, accumulation of smoke, and other environmental factors; in fact, the evidence shows that this is false. Despite the fact that no other portion of the paintings or statues had been affected by the same darkening, or why when the images were restored, copied, or repainted in subsequent centuries, the original brown or black skin color was painstakingly preserved (Scheer p. 10, 16). Even analyses of relative age, possible smoke exposure, and darkness of skin tone debunked these assumptions.

Many of these copies, and even copies of copies, are made from originals attributed to Saint Luke and are said to have been drawn from life; i.e., they are true portraits of the Virgin Mary herself. Nearly all of these images that have not been painted over show the Holy Mother and Christ Child with dark brown or black faces and hands. A wide variety of images that have been attributed at some point (although some have been shown to have other origins more recently) to Saint Luke can be viewed here, including ones that have been painted over and/or literally whitened in the 18th and 19th centuries.image

One of the factors that art historians have pointed to repeatedly as evidence that these images were not intended to be of a Black woman is that there is no mention of them in historical documents being described as “black”. However, there is no reason to suppose that the way she was perceived at the time these images were made, or for centuries afterwards, is the same as they are viewed retroactively-or that her skin color would have been seen as “anomalous”, unlike the historians of this century. These texts describe only clothing and decoration, or mention “the image of Our Lady”, without prevarication upon relative skin hue (Scheer p. 10).

In quite notable opposition to those who are adamant that these images do nothing to suggest that the Virgin Mary was a dark-skinned woman, the 15th-century scholar Gabriel di Barletta quotes the thirteenth-century St. Albert the Great. According to him:

You ask: Was the Virgin dark or fair? Albertus Magnus says that she was not simply dark, nor simply red-haired, nor just fair-haired … Mary was a blend of complexions, partaking of all of them, because a face partaking of all of them is a beautiful one … And yet this, says Albertus, we must admit: she was a little on the dark side. There are three reasons for thinking this-firstly by reason of complexion, since Jews tend to be dark and she was a Jewess; secondly by reason of witness, since St. Luke made the three pictures of her now at Rome, Loreto and Bologna, and these are brown-complexioned; thirdly, by reason of affinity. A son commonly takes after his mother, and vice versa; Christ was dark, therefore …(Scheer p 14, Vaz De Silva p. 7)

imageIt is also notable that according to Albertus, the dark skin of Christ is a well-known fact, and is used to demonstrate that by virtue of heredity, it follows that Mary herself would also be dark-complected.

When this is contrasted with some of the more absurd claims passed as “explanations” of the Holy Mother’s dark skin, including Ean Begg’s ludicrous, “Mary lived in a hot climate and would have been very sunburnt” (Begg p. 7), it illuminates just how far many writers on the Black Madonnas are willing to stretch credulity.

Begg’s willingness to point out the “open hostility” that any scholarship on the Black Virgins was met with in the 20th century, is made hypocritical by the omission of any reasons why every single priest and nun would have walked out of the room at the 1952 American Association for the Advancement of Science; namely, racial prejudice that did not exist at the time these images were made, or at the time they were renowned and venerated (Begg, p. 8).

In fact, denigration towards the appearance of the Black Virgins is a modern invention; before the 18th century, they were seen as not only the most true to life (due to their origins attributed to Saint Luke’s portraits), but as the most beautiful and desirable. It was not until later that the qualification “Nigra sum, sed formosa” (I am black, but beautiful) was added to several French Black Madonna statues, including one in Notre Dame.

Monique Scheer notes in her exhaustive essay on the black Madonnas that the connection between the Madonna’s black skin color and a person of African descent goes unmade until 1816:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also expressed a sense of aesthetic disappointment in black madonnas in a comment from 1816: “How the most unhappy of all appearances could have crept in-that, probably for Egyptian or Abessinian reasons, the Mother of God is portrayed as brown, and the face of Our Savior printed on Veronica’s veil was also given a moorish color-may be clarified when that part of art history is more closely examined.

imageScheer notes that this also coincides with the invention of a racial separation between “white” people and “black” people, although makes little mention of its connection to colonialism and American chattel slavery (Scheer 26, Allen XIII-107) and subsequent devaluation of the aesthetics of dark-skinned persons.

Although Scheer’s exhaustive scholarship is certainly commendable, she falls prey to a certain amount of confirmation bias in her conclusion:

The idea of a black madonna as possibly African was not disturbing enough to cause any reference to it until the early nineteenth century, and then it was primarily among those for whom sacred meanings were invalid-rationalist, even anti-Catholic, intellectuals. (Scheer p. 29)

Considering within the first paragraph of this thorough essay Scheer is quite certain that these images “were not originally intended to be depictions of Mary as an African”, she shows herself as perhaps falling victim to the same confirmation bias that many of the writers she criticizes.

(Reblogged from wocinsolidarity)

(Source: stereochromelover)

(Reblogged from armanipradagucci)


Source (X)

(Source: theshadowtoyourlight)

(Reblogged from tht1chck)
(Reblogged from silkskin)

'Dive into the Lagoon Nebula' 20 x 24in oil painting

(Source: pauljuno)

(Reblogged from catronicon)


Toyin Odutola
(2013 - 2014)

Charcoal, pastel and marker on paper. Approx. 42 x 50.5 inches. 

"Like the Sea" is a series of mixed media drawings portraying the artist’s two younger brothers. The series title is inspired by the Zora Neale Hurston quote, “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore,” from Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). 

(Reblogged from racialicious)
(Reblogged from arkhamgel)


Nina Pappa.

Intermediate Times 1, 2007 - 2011.Rapitograph and collage on paper.

Intermediate Times 2.

(Reblogged from darksilenceinsuburbia)

nigitmare-deactivated20140115 asked: oh noooo, a painting or presentation about a historical figure is cropped to focus on the historical figure...






*slaps forehead*


We totally can learn much more about History and Art History from this:

Than we can from this:


I mean, what about this guy???? He’s totally from history!!!

But actually this work is about revolutionizing military painting because this is The Surrender of Breda by Diego Velasquez

Or, let’s talk about Luis Sotelo the Franciscan Monk! Did you know he traveled literally around the world??? He’s so great! So learned! Just look at him from this painting held in the Vatican!!!!!!

But hey let’s NOT talk about the only reason he ever went anywhere, which was because he was accompanied by Hasekura Tsunenaga and his retinue, who were secret Japanese ambassadors to the Pope in Rome, which is where and why they were painted at all:

Are we getting any clearer yet?

I get why people want to see images that focus on who the text is about, but seriously (and this is going to sound terrible because of my ignorance beforehand), I had no idea that Japanese people set foot in Rome during medieval times before I saw this post. That is how much context was lost by the cropping of that image. And for fuck’s sake, it’s not like educators can’t show a 2nd damn slide with the whole image.

And I’m not even the one who bolded the above, for a change. :) Also, exactly.

As others have mentioned (including myself in the op), these are all “historical figures”. Which figures are chosen to represent different things in different lecture materials, handouts, and PowerPoints are important, because the strongly influence our ideas of what a “default” person of a particular area, time period, or event looked like.

Say you’re in a Western Civ class, and your prof gives a quick rundown on Rubens. What do you think you’ll see at the header of the slide as a "typical" Rubens? (both are cropped)



or This?


What about Rubens’ studies? Which one is “Study: Head of a Woman”? (full images)



or This?


All four are in fact, pretty typical of Rubens’ work.

I just wonder what kind of discussion would happen in the classroom depending on which image was used.

All of this.

Also, just thought I’d add that Japanese envoys made it all the way to Spain, and some of the members stayed behind, starting their own families there. Wikipedia says that there’s still around 700 people with the surname Japón, which identifies them as descendents of the Japanese envoys that stayed behind.

Though this was in the Late Renaissance, I think it’s still worth mentioning, especially since Japan is associated so strongly with being insular. There was a time when Japan was much more open to worldwide relationships, and Japan reached far and wide in seeking out those relationships.



(Reblogged from lisawithabee)




Portuguese designer Susana Soares has developed a device for detecting cancer and other serious diseases using trained bees. The bees are placed in a glass chamber into which the patient exhales; the bees fly into a smaller secondary chamber if they detect cancer. 

Scientists have found that honey bees - Apis mellifera - have an extraordinary sense of smell that is more acute than that of a sniffer dog and can detect airborne molecules in the parts-per-trillion range. 

Bees can be trained to detect specific chemical odours, including the biomarkers associated with diseases such as tuberculosis, lung, skin and pancreatic cancer.

Bonobo, io corro ad alitare sulla porticina delle tue pecchie


(Reblogged from mommapolitico)

     No one before Bernini had managed to make marble so carnal. In his nimble hands it would flatter and stream, quiver and sweat. His figures weep and shout, their torses twist and run, and arch themselves in spasms of intense sensation. He could, like an alchemist, change one material into another - marble into trees, leaves, hair, and, of course, flesh.  
     -   Simon Schama’s Power of Art. Bernini

(Source: cressus)

(Reblogged from whateverwhateverr)




kehinde wiley.


he takes dudes like these guys and lets them pick out/chooses an older picture to emulate and it’s a really interesting dichotomy between the hypermasculine way we’re supposed to think of black men and the way masculinity was thought of back in the day!


Kehinde Wiley! I’ve seen his work at the Brooklyn Museum! Definitely check him out.

(Source: therealpuppyish)

(Reblogged from what-a-catch)


Go to for more info

Opening event Monday 7pm
Hours: Noon-7 (starting Tuesday)

(Reblogged from kirbymuseum)


The Jack Kirby Museum opens TODAY for one trial week:

Monday, November 4–Sunday, November 10th
178 Delancey Street, New York City
Admission is FREE; suggested donation $2 for adults

It looks like it’s open 12pm-7pm most days, but check for details. There’s an opening reception Monday night at 7pm.

He got screwed by Marvel and Disney, but I will pretty much always be down for Jack Kirby…in addition to creating soo many great comics & characters (Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-Men and a TON of others) Jack Kirby created the Black Panther at a time when the Black Panther Party was coming to the public forefront. Think about that. And he did it right, he didn’t make T’Challa a thug or an ex-convict…he made him the King of one of the most technologically advanced nations on earth. In Africa. Listen to Dr. James Peterson discuss the King of comics: [video

 I’m catching this exhibit

(Reblogged from seanhowe)


Sand Sculptors of Durban:

"Most often spotted alongside the pier, armed only with a spade, their hands and imagination, the sand-artists spend their days creating marvellous works of art for public admiration in the hopes of a steady stream of donations as this is often their only means of survival. Passers-by sometimes offer extra money so they can be photographed with these works of art, some of which can take up to a week to complete depending on size and detail, only to be destroyed in minutes. 
So why do their creators make them? Some of these guys are homeless teenagers - sculpting often means they don’t have to go to bed on an empty stomach. For others, the money they make is used to travel to and from home, or to pay for shelter for the night.” (Source)

(Reblogged from spillboy)