People of Color in European Art History


  1. Various Artists

    Saint Nicholas (Nikolaus, Bishop of Myra)

    Nicholas, was probably born during the third century in the village of Patara, in what is now the southern coast of Turkey. He was born of very wealthy ethnic black Anatolians of the ancient Roman Empire.

    Nicholas’ wealthy parents, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Being a devout Christian, he followed the words of Jesus to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”

    Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was made the Bishop of Myra while still a young man. The high office of Nicholas at such a young age speaks to dominant role played by Muurish black Anatolians and Africans in creating the church as we know it today. Bishop Nicholas was known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

    Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned.

    After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, where he worked with other early fathers of the church to establish the standardized christian doctrine of today. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave.

    The remains of Saint Nicholas are interred in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. These bones were temporarily removed when the crypt was repaired during the 1950s. At the Vatican’s request, anatomy professor Luigi Martino from the University of Bari, took thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs (roentgenography) of the skull and other bones.

    The current professor of forensic pathology at the University of Bari, Francesco Introna, knew advancements in diagnostic technique could yield much more from the data gathered in the 1950s. So he engaged an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson, at the University of Manchester in England, to construct a model of the saint’s head from the earlier measurements.

    Using this data, the medical artist used state-of-the-art computer software to develop this model of St. Nicholas.

    1. Saint Nicholas, c. 1760. Egg tempera on wood with metal riza (possibly silver), 10½” x 12½”. Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA. [x]

    2. Sassetta, The Virgin with Four Saints (Saint Nicholas detail). c. 1435, Tempera on wood. Museo Diocesano, Cortona. [x]

    3. Velikiy Novgorod, The Funeral of Saint Nicholas. c. 1200s. School of Novgorod. [x] [x]

    4. Niklaus of Myra, Unknown Russian Icon painter, pre-1000s.

    Reconstruction of Saint Nicholas [x]

    [x] [x]