People of Color in European Art History

  1. thebeatmesa wrote...

    Do you have information on Caribbean pirates that weren't white dudes? Or slaves brought to the Caribbean who became pirates? Books I'm reading mention that they existed, but don't give me any details.


    West Indies

    I really don’t know who came up with the idea that the Caribbean was somehow devoid of people of color, considering that’s basically the majority of people who lived there. Not that pirates were necessarily from that area, but yeah the ubiquitous whiteness idea is a far cry from the truth. As is the “everyone was men” idea.

    Rough demographics of pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy

  2. siriussandra wrote...

    I'm considering writing a novel of a female Robin Hood, and was wondering if it could be historically accurate to write her as being half-Asian? The story would take place in the 12th century in England. Do you have any information on Asian people living in England at that time?


    Of course. Asia and Europe aren’t even a separate landmass, after all.

    Here are some links to give you a broader perspective on the kinds of people who would have been in Medieval England, Europe overall, how and why they got there, and how long they would have been there for.

    The Silk Road

    The Silk Road (Europe-Asia) in Antiquity

    The Silk Road (Europe-Asia) via Ottoman Turkey

    Pilgrimage and Traditions of Travel

    Mongolian Empire

    Ottoman Empire

    Western Europe via Venice (trade gateway)

    Black and Asian Performance in British History (V&A Museum)

    Description of Rome from Ancient China

    Quick Primer on Medieval Multiculturalism/Medieval Islam

    Prehistoric Silk Road: The Steppe Road

    tagged: Crusades





    P.S. Asian people in Medieval European art are usually “marked” that way via clothing, not physical characteristics.

    P.P.S. There’s a good bit of evidence that a character like the one you describe would not have necessarily been perceived as physically “other” or “different” by Medieval English society; but you’re writing for people reading this story now. Probably keep that in mind.

    Also, an Asian woman as a Robin Hood type character would make a fascinating story and a lot of sense! Many Asian nations/regions have a long tradition of women warriors.

    One more fun thing: Trotula of Salerno, who revolutionized Medieval medicine by and for women, synthesizing knowledge flowing out of Asia and the Middle East regarding medicine and specifically gynecology. In Medieval Europe, some of the most well-known people of color were physicians, because African and Asian medicine was pretty revered.

    It all depends on what kind of story you want to tell. You can have some pretty epic Merry Men and Women, too!

  3. justplainsomething wrote...

    Do you know of any ancient cultures outside of Roman and Greek (and not European obviously) with myths about humans becoming immortal? I'm trying to do character building for a story about immortals in the modern world and I want to have as much diversity as possible (aka NOT just Romans and Greeks), but I haven't found much yet and also don't want to bend other cultures' myths to fit my ideas, either. Anyway, I think your blog is great and thanks for the help.

    Immortality and the origin of death is one of the most popular topics of stories from around the world, actually. Often immortality is or can be conferred on average humans by eating or drinking a rare and special kind of food or beverage.

    In the Islamic world you have the four immortals, including Khidir, the Green Man, who drank from the water of life and became immortal. Khidir’s tale shares some factors in common with the story of The Wandering Jew. You can read more about him and the other immortals here.

    In China you have the Covert Eight Immortals:

    whose power can be transferred to tools an used to destroy evil ro bestow life; as well as the Eight Immortal Scholars of Huainan, or the Eight Gentlemen, who aren’t deified or made supernatural in any way, as their “immortality” is a metaphor but I think that’s a fun play for fiction. As well as Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who famously spent much of his life searching for an elixir of immortality.

    There are a fair amount of Native American tales that deal with this topic, too. The Boy Who Would Be Immortal is a Hočąk story, with analogues in Macmac, Menominee, and Potawotami, with their theme of fasting. If you plan to include immortals that blend with supernatural tales, Wendigo are certainly immortal (humans become Wendigo by breaking taboos or committing terrible crimes), as are Skin Walkers in Navajo legend.

    In Vietnam, Hang Nga and Hau Nghe are made immortal by eating a special type of grass. Separate from this, you have the Vietnamese Four Immortals: the giant boy Thánh Gióng, mountain god Tản Viên Sơn Thánh,Chử Đồng Tử the marsh boy, and the princess Liễu Hạnh.

    In both Hindu and Buddhist tales, the elixir of immortality is guarded jealously by the gods and Garuda, the mythological bird person, plays a very important role in these kind of stories in Southeast Asia.

    Another linking theme is the Tree of Life, which many cultures have in common, from Yggdrasil to the Mesoamerican World Tree.

    There’s a Yoruban tale about Oba Koso or Shango, who was forced to commit suicide by political intrigue but did not hang; The demigod Maui has many stories his quests involving immortality for himself and others in Tonga, New Zealand, Samoa, and many other Pacific Islands.

    Also keep in mind, even if you’re going to allow Greek or Roman immortals to dominate your story-not all Greek or Roman immortals were white people. A notable exception is Memnon, an African (Ethiopian and/or Sudanese) king, who was killed by Achilles and mourned so deeply by Eos, his mother, that Zeus was moved to grant him immortality.

    I highly encourage anyone else to add their favorite stories about immortality to this post!!!

  4. Lucy MacKeith has started a research project tracing Black History in Devon, England. The map is explored in this document, which offers a brief exploration of primary documents, artworks, and records. It is downloadable and translates well into an educational handout.
Further exploration and thematic writing is available here on the following topics:

Foreword by Sam Walker, Director, AMBH

Why black history in Devon?

Black Romans in Devon?

Saint Maurice

Devon’s connection with the slave trade and slavery

Gravestones illustrating the links between Devon and black history

Black people and the sea; The London 

The Swete Family in Modbury 

Joe Green

Devon and the abolition of the slave trade

Compensation for slavery?

How to remember slavery and the slave trade?

Who is this man?

Olaudah Equiano Moretonhampstead

Black soldiers and Devon

My Father, by Zena Burland

Jane, a black Devonian

How to take the study of black history forward

Conclusion   -  writing black history of the past and today

Resources for learning

Notes for educators in schools, museums and libraries

Notes on the text

Picture sources and acknowledgements

Photo credits

Mapping the black presence in Devon
  5. quietbang wrote...

    Hey, I know this is outside of your scope so I'm just hoping you can point me in the right direction- I'm looking for images of physically disabled people, literally anywhere, prior to the 19th century. Because I'm kinda sick of being told that I didn't exist, and I can't seem to find anything myself.

    I’m a disability activist and it’s part of my day job, too so I actually have a fair bit, I think.

    Here’s a link to a post i made on this a while back, including this book:


    For some pretty interesting but mostly text-based scholarship on disabled people in history, Disability Studies Quarterly offers full text online (EE!), and I *think* they have PDFs that include images and/or artworks.

    This issue in particular has some great articles on Disabled Shakespearean characters and themes.

    Here is a post about a deaf man who greatly confused some Americans in the late 1800s. Here is a painting of the Virgin and Child appearing to a “lame” noblewoman from the 1750s. I have some paintings of Billy Waters and some disabled Black sailors in the British Navy from the 1800s here:


    Here is a PDF excerpt from Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of Disability that includes at least one image from an illuminated manuscript.

    Greg Carrier, a graduate student in Medieval Studies at the intersection of disability wrote a series of guest posts for the Medieval Middle, has a blog here that you can look through to find images and writing about the depiction of disabled people in Medieval Art as well as evidence from writing and I *think* surviving objects as well. For example:


    Here’s a pretty cool resource on a disability/representation exhibit that has a lot of images, including The Beggars by Pieter Brueghel:


    More on that work here.

    There’s a LOT out there, and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.

  6. lorpy wrote...

    I now have a great desire to hear the more accurate side of women's history. I've never believed the traditional story us in school ("women became second-class citizens cuz all they did was make babies & pleasure men, while men did everything else, but hey here some ancient cultures that did give women some rights! Not as much rights as women have now, because now women are equal to men! right? riiight?"). But your the first person with expertise in history to tell me otherwise! [ 1 / 2 ]

    [ 2 / 2 ] I know it’s not entirely relevant to this blog, but could you at least point me and others in the right direction? I’m sure there’s others who’d be interested in the subject…
    Interdisciplinary Gender Studies was actually the gateway drug to my current ~esoteric specialty~, which I’m sure comes as a shock to absolutely no one. It was probably around ‘09-‘10 that I first kind of coalesced the concept of “retroactive erasure” as pertains to the erasure of the participation and achievement of women specifically in European Medieval Art.
    Basically I was doing research, like ya do, and I came across this book written in the early 1900s that mentioned a particular piece I was researching. Basically this woman had not only signed a manuscript she’d been particularly hired to illustrate, she’d illustrated herself holding the book on the last page. What the author of the early 1900s book had to say about it was that there was no reason to “assume” she had written the book or done the illuminations, because “it was too masterly for someone not a trained artist to have done”. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that quote, ha.
    If I’m ever feeling particularly ballsy I might one day share some of my old lectures from then I happen to have video of. I dunno, this was before I got so used to public speaking I feel literally nothing when I get up in front of a crowd anymore, and the word “um” has been completely abolished from my vocabulary.
    The problem was is that I found too much replication of the same kind of erasure, marginalization, dismissal, and devaluation in Gender Studies that I was finding in other disciplines, pretty pervasively towards people and women of color. And do not even get me started on the history of American feminism and how that intersects with disability. Not even remotely enough horrified reaction images for that.
    There are a lot of resources out there in regard to Gender studies +Medieval or really any European era, the problem is that the pickings for women of color + world history can be pretty slim, unless you’ve got something specific in mind already. It really depends on what you’re looking for. You can find anything from snarkticles on, to hardcover-only 200 dollar humanities textbooks, TPBs that will run you almost as much, subpar pop-History hot off the vanity press, Eurocentric love letters to the Christian history of Anorexia Nervosa, vaguely historical dramatized biographies of women artists and Elizabeth I, like….your question is so very general that I really don’t feel comfortable picking a direction to point you in.
    As for tumblr, wocinsolidarity has a list of tumblrs for people of color, including of course, blogs for women of color, activists, and I think some history-related resources. I feel kind of bad sometimes when I’m practically saying “you need to narrow your thesis” when people ask me for resources, but there’s just so much out there on everything, sometimes it’s difficult to choose some kind of comprehensive primer when everything’s so flawed. Here’s a “Best of 2013” I did on women of color in history with a whole bunch of links and hopefully some leads that might interest you. If you are looking for something specific that interests you or make any cool discoveries, send me a message and I’ll do my best.

  7. disabusing-common-notions:

    Update for anyone new here- you can also check the Works Presented page, it is regularly updated.

    Presence of PoC in latin and ancient greek literature


    15nth-16nth century

    17nth-18nth century

    Visual Arts


    LGBTQ themes in literature (in progress):

    The links lead straight to the tags, or masterposts, so they are going to be constantly reviewed and updated.


    For anyone looking for people of color in Ancient Greek and Roman literature, with lots of other stuff, too!

  8. gdfalksen:

Download over 250 art books for free here
  9. afro-textured-art:


    On April 30, Emory University will be offering a free online course on The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia.

    The class will reveal one of the most dynamic, yet little known cultures of the ancient world. It will explore the geography and archaeology of Nubia, Egypt’s neighbor to the south and home to a series of remarkable and innovative civilizations. It will cover the period from the earliest inhabitants of the Nile Valley (Paleolithic through Neolithic and domestication of plants and animals), and continue until the advent of Christianity.

    The class is a combination of video lectures from five to 20 minutes in length with images of sites and objects along with maps and plans. There will also be some film clips as well. There will be homework-style quizzes to help students measure learning and explore the materials in more depth. There are several extra credit options, and there will be a final exam at the end of the course.

    The course will last a total of 8 weeks and is taught in English with English subtitles. There will be a verified certificate of completion at the end of the course. Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University will be teaching the class.

    This is amazing!!! Hopefully there will a be lot artistic representation of ancient Nubians by the actual people instead of the ancient Egyptians. Maybe this can help me create an ancient Nubia page.

    For Ancient Art Week and my Resources tag!!!

  10. ronniefr wrote...

    I'm African American myself. I have a Q about skin color. Up until what point were blacks treated pretty badly due to the color of their skin? I mean was it REALLY as recent as the whole European salve route? For example did any of these medieval people of color here face prejudices against them simply for the color of their skin ..or back then were blacks TRULY no different than a white person in terms of skin color? I hope to learn a lot more here but I've always wondered this in particular.

    I *think* I understand what you’re trying to ask me, and there’s a lot of writing on this topic. The best and most accurate answer I can give is: it wasn’t anything like the way it is today. Also, it’s not like there’s a consensus on that, other than what I just said. Some people believe that there were forms of prejudice or “proto-racism” against Black people in Medieval and even Ancient Europe.  Part of the problem with really selling that as well as the problem with answering your question is that the idea of “white people” didn’t exist.

    You can’t homogenize every society in a continent over the course of thousands of years like that and make some kind of definitive judgement one way or the other. It’s all a LOT more complex than most people are led to believe. Like, it would take en entire class to really get into it (link is to a syllabus with book list).

    Although if your question is “were Black people seen as no different than white people”, the answer is no. Ancient and Medieval people had eyes and saw what people looked like, the degree to which they saw them as “different” and what ideas they associated with them varied greatly. The reasons that European artists included them in their work vary just as greatly.

    One of the challenges of history is that we’re really just interpreting evidence and documentation, which is contingent on that evidence surviving. Once you get to say, the Tudor era in England, better documentation plus artwork begins to surface. There’s a good article/book review here on Onyeka Nubia’s Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England here, to give an overview, and I’ve written here before on how Elizabeth I tried more than once to have all the Black British deported, and how and why that failed.

    As for Ancient European civilizations, there have been plenty of people who’ve written about their ideas on ethnicity and how that did or didn’t relate to personality traits and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve tried to concentrate on how this information as it comes to us has been filtered through centuries of prejudice and isn’t as reliable as we would like to think.

    For further exploration, here is a sample chapter you can read of Benjamin Isaac’s The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, which as the author openly admits doesn’t analyze the arts or visual works as he is not qualified to do so, so you’re relying more heavily on tests and translations. Another problem is that the book explores feelings of possible prejudice in Classical works of literature, NOT evidence of systematic bias, which undermines its purpose and effectiveness in my humble opinion:

    This study considers how Greeks and Romans thought and wrote about others, more than how they actually behaved towards them, although clearly there is a connection between the two. If we interpret them properly, we can understand what ancient authors meant to convey or conveyed, sometimes without meaning to do so, about other peoples and about foreigners living in their midst.

    It does not follow that we can deduce from their writings how the Greeks and Romans treated them in practice in day-to-day life. There are several reasons for this. First, and most obviously, the authors are all men belonging to the well-to-do or upper classes, which gives them a specific perspective. Second, it is not their ambition to provide us with insights on how the others saw their position vis-à-vis the Greeks and Romans.This book, therefore, aims in particular to elucidate the views encountered in Greek and Roman literature.

    Like I’ve said previously , the lack of interdisciplinary work combined with the lack of accessibility in the writing on these topics in a pretty steep hurdle when it comes to reaching anything resembling a consensus on it. 

    My point is that it’s important to approach each work with an understanding towards its particular context (for what discipline, for what academic journal) as well as its particular bias (who is the author, why are they writing, who is their audience).

    Further reading: