Fall 2010 - 16th- & 17th-Century Prints

Africans in Black & White: Images of Blacks in 16th- & 17th-Century Prints

In conjunction with the publication of the first four books of the ten-book Image of the Black in Western Art series, the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute and Harvard Art Museums presented Africans in Black and White: Black Figures in 16th- and 17th-Century Prints.

Artists included Albrecht Dürer, Hendrick Goltzius, Rembrandt, and Peter Paul Rubens. The exhibition was curated by David Bindman, emeritus professor of the history of art, University College London, and 2010 Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, and Anna Knaap, Visiting Fellow, Jesuit Institute, Boston College.

On November 15th the M. Victor Leventritt Symposium was held in the Thompson Room, Barker Center, featuring show curators and contributors from the Image of the Black in Western Art book series.

This exhibition highlights the presence—not always observed—of Africans in European art of the 16th and 17th enturies, in etchings and engravings of the period, all except four of which have been lent by the Harvard Art Museums. It commemorates the publication and republication of the first four volumes of The Image of the Black in Western Art, edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by Harvard University Press. Africans appear in such Biblical subjects as The Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, and as bystanders. They also appear in allegorical and mythological subjects and occasionally in portraits of real people. In general Africans are treated by artists with sympathy and respect that run counter to the harsh reality of the slavery that, with a few exceptions, they endured at European hands during the period. Though paintings are now more available to the public in museums they were usually seen in their own time only by a privileged minority. Prints like the one shown above, though never inexpensive, were made in relatively large numbers and were distributed widely.


Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
The Beheading of John the Baptist, 1640
Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum, Anonymous Loan in honor of Jakob Rosenberg,
41.2000 Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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