People of Color in European Art History


  1. 1800s Week!

    Christos the Athenean

    Nikolaos Gyzis (Greek, 1842-1901) – Portrait of an Arab (identified as Christos the Athenean), 1871
    Private Collection

    Christos the Arapis (dark skinned/Arab) was a well known 19th century Athenean. He was born in Africa, but along with his parents he had been taken as a slave by Ottoman Turks [thus freed when the Greek mainland was no longer under ottoman occupation].

    He was multilingual, an independent thinker, and had good knowledge of politics and diplomacy. He was a distinguished and much loved member of Athenean society, a favourite subject of many contemporary painters, sculptors, and poets. When the painter Gyzis came to Athens, Christos was a living legend and he painted him on many occasions between 1871-1875 other than the portrait:
    Head of an Arab
    Oriental man with a musical instrument
    Oriental man smoking
    Oriental man with fruit
    The punishment of the chicken thief (first man on the right)

    Christos is the sublect of this painting by another well known Greek painter, Nikiforos Lytras.
    Christos the Arapis (1873-74). Oil on canvas, 44x39,5 cm

    Oh, wow!!! This has got to be one of my favorites submissions of all time. I love that these are all of the same man. You can see the age difference in some of the portraits, yet he remains incredibly charismatic. I think the only other Black European man that had as many portraits made of him that I have seen is Ira Aldridge, the Victorian actor. It’s easy to see why Christos would have been a legend in his own time.