Image of the Black Archive & Library

Spanning nearly 5,000 years and documenting virtually all forms of media, the Image of the Black Archive & Library is an unprecedented research project devoted to the systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in art. Started in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Menil in reaction to the continuing existence of segregation in the United States, the Archive contains photographs of approximately 30,000 works of art, each one of which is extensively documented and categorized by the Archive's staff. For the first thirty years of the project's existence, the project focused on the production of a prize-winning, four-volume series of generously illustrated books, The Image of the Black in Western Art. Since moving to Harvard in 1994, the project is focused on the production of the final volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art and expanding access to the Archive itself (prior to its arrival at Harvard, the Archive was only available to scholars working on the published volumes). The Institute hosts conferences, fellowships for scholars, seminars, and exhibitions on issues raised by the Archive, including the African American Art Conference in 2004.

Thumbnail for Image of the Week: Why These Slave Women in an Asian Setting Were Important to Dutch Trade

Image of the Week: Why These Slave Women in an Asian Setting Were Important to Dutch Trade

A fanciful vision of an exotic, remote Asian land brilliantly expands across the surface of sumptuously colored Dutch ceramic tiles. At the upper right, an elegantly attired goddess pours the streams of her divine blessing over airy pavilions peopled with courtly figures. These Oriental motifs are derived from imported Chinese ceramics, representative of the trend for the incorporation of this imagery in European art known as chinoiserie.

Thumbnail for Image of the Week: Church Received a Lasting Tribute

Image of the Week: Church Received a Lasting Tribute

The ornate, lacquered contours of a meticulously painted serving tray highlight a moving oration from the pulpit by a noted early-19th-century black preacher. The figure has long been identified as Lemuel Haynes, a dynamic Congregationalist minister from New England who adumbrated his abolitionist sentiments within the unassailable context of divine Scripture. The venue for his spirited address provides a fitting centerpiece for the discussion of his influential career as a leading preacher and activist of the time.

Thumbnail for Image of the Week: Why Is a Black Man in a French Family Portrait?

Image of the Week: Why Is a Black Man in a French Family Portrait?

Taken for granted today, the pictorial commemoration of the family was just coming into vogue in the 17th century. The prominent inclusion of a black musician in this domestically scaled oil painting enhances the affirmation of French bourgeois values as it sheds light on the presence of people of African descent during the golden era of Louis XIV, who reigned from 1643 to 1715.

Thumbnail for Image of the Week: A Memorable Portrait of an Ex-Slave

Image of the Week: A Memorable Portrait of an Ex-Slave

Bundled in a heavy overcoat, high-collared jacket and knit cap, an elderly black man regards the viewer with a frankness of expression tinged with bemusement. The spellbinding candor of self-presentation seen here could only have been recorded by an artist possessed of great sympathy for his subject. The fortuitous meeting of the ex-slave Yarrow Mamout and the painter-naturalist Charles Willson Peale produced one of the most fascinating and memorable portraits of the early American republic.

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