People of Color in European Art History


  1. Michiel van der Voort, the Elder
Pulpit
Antwerp (1713)
Carved Oak
Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp
This fine pulpit came from the abbey of St Bernard in Hemiksem on the River Scheldt. The body of the pulpit is supported by personifications of the four then known continents, symbolizing the spread of the Catholic faith over the entire earth. Europe holds a sceptre, representing her supremacy over the rest of the world. To the right, Asia is dressed in oriental-style costume, while on the left, in the darkness below the steps, we see Africa - a black woman in turban. America, finally, wears a feathered head-dress. The consoles beneath the actual pulpit are decorated with symbols of the Four Evangelists.
The most striking feature is the staircase, which is carved in the shape of trees, oak and beech trunks and intertwining branches and twigs in which birds and other small creatures sit. The big birds sit on large branches and the small ones among the leaves and on the roof. They are rendered very realistically and can be readily identified: a parrot, a turkey, a heron, a peacock, a cock, a little owl and many other birds. The dove appears as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in an aureole below the sounding board, which is held up by a trumpet-blowing angel and a variety of small angels.
The whole displays a strange mixture of styles: the body of the pulpit is baroque but the sounding board above it is closer to rococo. The staircase, meanwhile, with the trees and animals is carved very realistically. Despite this variety, the pulpit is a peerless masterpiece of Flemish sculpture.
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    Michiel van der Voort, the Elder

    Pulpit

    Antwerp (1713)

    Carved Oak

    Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

    This fine pulpit came from the abbey of St Bernard in Hemiksem on the River Scheldt. The body of the pulpit is supported by personifications of the four then known continents, symbolizing the spread of the Catholic faith over the entire earth. Europe holds a sceptre, representing her supremacy over the rest of the world. To the right, Asia is dressed in oriental-style costume, while on the left, in the darkness below the steps, we see Africa - a black woman in turban. America, finally, wears a feathered head-dress. The consoles beneath the actual pulpit are decorated with symbols of the Four Evangelists.

    The most striking feature is the staircase, which is carved in the shape of trees, oak and beech trunks and intertwining branches and twigs in which birds and other small creatures sit. The big birds sit on large branches and the small ones among the leaves and on the roof. They are rendered very realistically and can be readily identified: a parrot, a turkey, a heron, a peacock, a cock, a little owl and many other birds. The dove appears as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in an aureole below the sounding board, which is held up by a trumpet-blowing angel and a variety of small angels.

    The whole displays a strange mixture of styles: the body of the pulpit is baroque but the sounding board above it is closer to rococo. The staircase, meanwhile, with the trees and animals is carved very realistically. Despite this variety, the pulpit is a peerless masterpiece of Flemish sculpture.

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