Anonymous submitted to medievalpoc:
I’m not sure if this image is truly on topic, as the Madonna’s skin colour was not originally intentional, but I saw a travel programme which featured her and mentioned that when she was cleaned of soot the congregation protested, being used to her having black skin, so she was painted black once more.
She was created by an unknown artist in the 15th century.
Image source: http://www.einsiedeln-tourismus.ch/en/abbey-pilgrimage/abbey/chapelofgrace-black-madonna
If it helps, they say that about all of the Black Madonnas. Even when it’s kind of obviously not the case:
What kinds of justifications do people usually give for paintings of both white people and poc? The smoke damage and aging paint excuses don't really work for that scenario, but people still have to try and find an explanation that doesn't involve non-white people living in europe at that time.
You mean, in art history texts and academic works? Most of the time they don’t give any justification. They just say it. Usually that’s enough, because when you’re just confirming a bias, there’s no need to justify it unless someone is actively resisting it. That’s what I mean when I talk about creating counternarratives. Without an active willingness to question these ideas, you just go with the flow and no one has to justify themselves.
Honestly, I’m not trying to use the Black Madonnas as some kind of wedge to say that they are meant to represent specific people living in Europe at the time they were made, but I don’t think it’s out of the question, either. I think the scholarship that’s considered “current” on them is, well, crap. So much of it is obviously inconsistent, overly obsessed with symbolism and comparative religion angles, oddly self-contradictory in an unproductive way, and generally needs a LOT of work.
I’ve mentioned before, no works have received as many excuses and explanations as the Black Madonnas. Depending on how many commas you can handle, feel free to read this writeup on the Black Virgin at University of Dayton’s website.
I think that it showcases just how outdated a lot of the sources people use when writing on these topics are horrifically out of date, as in the main source used in this article is from 1952 (Moss). :| And as outdated as it is, the author leaves out the part where the audience had such a massive problem with these artworks even existing, that they literally staged a walkout in protest of his research (Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin. 2006).
The article cites Begg at length as well (at least that’s from 2006, but mostly stays in the same vein)…of course, omitting the part where Begg claims “Mary lived in a hot climate and would have been very sunburnt” (page 7 of same book).
I mean…when you’re dealing with an academic situation in which sunburn, dirt, the symbol of dirt (I take some srs issue with that), smoke, chemical reactions, accidents, aging, mold, bad artists, text analogs, “pagan” influence, the kitchen sink, all are considered worthy academic topics for discussion and consideration. But for me to ask, “what if they just thought it was beautiful? Here’s some evidence!” is considered “bad history” and/or “having a political agenda”.
I find the lack of research exploring the evidence that this need for an “explanation” for the Black Madonnas can be traced back to 18th and 19th century Europeans who did not like her skin color, because they only associated a brown or black skin color with various people in the world they desired to abuse and exploit.
The same way it’s sort of skipped over how many of the “Enlightenment Greats” had overtly racist content in their works-or when it is addressed, it’s given a “things were just like that back then” explanation, without any accountability involved. The problem is, it’s that this is when these ideas were invented. Hume, Kant, Locke, Jefferson; their white supremacist views on art, creativity and aesthetics propelled an anti-Black and anti-indigenous/people of color worldview into the foundations of Art History as a discipline.
It’s my belief that unless we face this and add it to our perspective on how we interact with art history, especially works and pieces from before their time, we have no active resistance or active engagement with the biases that permeate the way we are educated about Art and History. Unless we actively resist racism, we participate in it.
I just think we can do better.
The Black Madonna of Beilstein*
Germany (c. 12th Century)
Possibly a copy/inspired after The Black Madonna of Loreto. Saint Joseph’s is a pilgrimage site because of the Black Madonna.
☛ People of Color in European Art History: Retroactive Erasure: The Black Madonnas of Europe
La Moreneta: The Virgin of Montserrat
One of the most famous of the Black Virgins of Europe, La Moreneta has been subjected to some of the most strenuous of tests of all the Black Madonnas in order to “prove” she was not originally Black, including x-rays. According to the Telegraph (UK), the report seemed to confirm what had already been assumed:
Over the years, the theory that the statue was not black has been aired several times and the new report appeared not to surprise Montserrat’s Benedictine community. Father Josep Maria Foses said: “In Montserrat we have assumed for some time that the statue is not black.”
The statue was definitely repainted several times over the centuries, the last being sometime in the 1800s, with black paint. I haven’t been able to find the full report on the findings of the tests, although I assume they found a coat of white paint in there somewhere. It’s not surprising that the statue was repainted with Black paint, considering that the tradition of Black Madonnas goes back to attributed images by Saint Luke, purportedly drawn from life; in other words, actual portraits of the Virgin Mary done in Jerusalem.
A Black Madonna would have generated much more in terms of pilgrimages and fame, as well as income for the hosting institution. There definitely would have been motivations to maintain a black color to the Madonna’s skin, although it doesn’t seem likely to me that if they had just painted a white Madonna black, that it would have generated the reverence a true Black Madonna would have. If indeed a white layer of paint did exist, it probably would have needed to darken naturally to some degree before being repainted Black.
For context, almost all of the hundreds of Black Madonnas that exist throughout Europe have had their color attributed to everything from “candle smoke”, aging varnishes, chemical reactions (for more on that read this post), and even, notoriously, “sunburn”. Despite quite a few of the Black Virgins having what some art historians maintain are Black or African features, almost all curators of Black Madonna images claim their skin color is due to unintentional causes.
The Virgin of Montserrat has a fascinating history, like most of the Black Madonnas:
According to legend La Moreneta was carved by St. Luke and brought to Montserrat by St. Peter in 50 AD, then hidden from the moors in the Santa Cova (holy cave) just down the mountain from the monastery.
By the late 1100s, a new wooden sculpture of the miraculous image was made, and it is this Romanesque statue that pilgrims are familiar with today. In 1522, St. Ignatius of Loyola came in pilgrimage, and made the decision to abandon his former life as a warrior, leaving his sword as an offering to Our Lady of Montserrat and settling for some time in the nearby town of Manresa as he discerned his vacation and wrote his Spiritual Exercises. The old church was replaced with an enormous transitional late Gothic/Renaissance-style basilica in 1592, and this building stood until much of it was destroyed by the armies of a retreating Napoleon in 1811.
Fortunately, the monks managed to hide the image of Our Lady of Montserrat so that it was not destroyed along with the rest of the abbey. In 1880, Our Lady of Montserrat was officially declared to be Patroness of Catalonia by Leo XIII. In more recent times, Pope John Paul II came to Montserrat on pilgrimage in 1982, to pray before the image of the Black Madonna.
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One of the most baffling failures of logic in all of academia is the flagrant attachment to the unsupported claim that the Black Virgins of Europe, of which there are well over 300, are not black because they are Black. For some reason, their inability to explain her dark…
File this under “things I wish I’d known about when I was living in Italy.”
Also, it’s highly likely that the historical Mary and Jesus were dark skinned. Far, far more likely than them being white. Not that that’s terribly relevant to the study of how medieval Christians thought about them, but it’s important now.
"Christian" =/= "White"
Medieval Christians include the Coptic Christians in North Africa and the Middle East
And the Copts of Egypt, specifically
And they pretty much created images of them as brown skinned more or less exclusively
As did a great deal of Byzantine images, as did many of the images that were professed to have been done by Saint Luke (some of which were repainted white in later centuries)
And a lot of the “Black Madonnas” that ended up in Northern Europe had been smuggled there to escape the iconoclasm that went on in various centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire (these are huge generalizations, by the way).