People of Color in European Art History

  1. athens-archaeological-museum:

    A collection of african presence in graeco-roman art from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens:

    1. A nuptial lebes with the preparation of a bride, by the Athens’ painter, Attica, (430-420 B.C)
    2. Bust of a young lady with an elaborate coiffure that dates back to Emperor Trajan’s era (1st-2nd century A.D), found in Attica Greece.
    3. A young Ethiopian groom tending a frightened horse (4rth century B.C): This relief was thought to be part of a funerary monument belonging to a man of the military. According to a different opinion, though, this might be a classicizing tribute to Mithridates, king of Pontos from the 1st century B.C. During the late hellenistic and early roman era a number of african horses were imported for races. It is logical that the horses would come with their grooms and trainers as well.
    4. A votive offering of a child holding a puppy, found in Epidaurus. Probably a depiction of the god Asclepius as an infant. (350 B.C)
    5. Head-shaped aryballoi (ca 6th century B.C): These very cute perfume containers are actually encountered quite frequently. At some point in hellenistic Greece it was a custom to gift guests of a συμπόσιον (a feast) with perfume, oil, a portion of leftovers and other gifts. Though these artifacts date a lot earlier, it’s not hard to imagine them as little charming gifts. Perhaps they depict popular characters or local celebrities, since other containers depict Hercules(a favourite), Dionysus, and other “beauties”-perhaps popular courtesans.

    part 1, part 2

  2. athens-archaeological-museum:

    A collection of african presence in graeco-roman art, from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens:

    1. A bell-shaped crater (a vessel for mixing wine with water) with a depiction of a Pygmy fighting off cranes (400-375 B.C) here
    2. A skyphos (wine cup) with a depiction of the hunter Kephalos, by the painter of Kaveirion, from Kaveirion in Thebes (late 5th century B.C) here. Kephalos appears also in some epigrams.
    3. Kaveirian skyfos (wine cup) with naked μύστης (mystes: an initiated devout) dancing with garlands and wearing bands, from Thebes (Greece), (late 5th century) here
    4. Kaveirian skyfos with a procession towards the temple of Cabeiri (also Kaveiroi), by the same painter as the above, from Thebes (Greece), (late 5th, early 4rth century B.C) here
    5. An african juggler working at banquets standind on a disk-shaped base. The figure wears a loincloth and flower garlands on his head and around his neck. He would have juggled with small spheres. From a workshop in Alexandria, Egypt (200-150 B.C). Found in Ampelokipoi, Attica. here

    part 1, part 2

    Thanks so much for dropping this is the medievalpoc tag!!! Although Ancient Art Week officially ended yesterday I can’t miss this opportunity to share these beautiful works with my readers.

  3. Ancient Art Week!
Wall Tile With Nubian Chief
Egypt (Dynasty 20, reign of Ramesses III, 1184-1153 B.C.)
Polychrome faience, 25 x 6 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

    Ancient Art Week!

    Wall Tile With Nubian Chief

    Egypt (Dynasty 20, reign of Ramesses III, 1184-1153 B.C.)

    Polychrome faience, 25 x 6 cm.

    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  4. Ancient Art from Mesopotamia!

    eastiseverywhere submitted:

    I’m submitting something that I originally featured on my own blog, East Is Everywhere . (It was part of my Africa week!)

    Nubian with oryx, monkey, and leopard skinsIraq, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu).  Excavated at Fort Shalmaneser. (800-700 BCE, Neo-Assyrian period)Ivory carvingMetropolitan Museum of ArtFrom here Africa and West Asia have had contact for a frickin’ long time, yo’. Btw, Nubia is in present-day Sudan. This Nubian tribute bearer exhibits traits of the Phoenician style, characterized by the slender, elongated form of the bearer and his animal gifts, the precision of carving and intricacy of detail, and the distinct Egyptian flavor of both pose and features.

    Nubian with oryx, monkey, and leopard skins
    Iraq, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu).  Excavated at Fort Shalmaneser. (800-700 BCE, Neo-Assyrian period)
    Ivory carving
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    From here

    Africa and West Asia have had contact for a frickin’ long time, yo’. Btw, Nubia is in present-day Sudan.

    This Nubian tribute bearer exhibits traits of the Phoenician style, characterized by the slender, elongated form of the bearer and his animal gifts, the precision of carving and intricacy of detail, and the distinct Egyptian flavor of both pose and features.

  5. ☛








    fuckyeahalejandra replied to your post: Ancient Art Week! Various Roman Sculpt…

    Are these sculptures of roman citizens or slaves?

    The association of Black people with enslavement is an entirely modern invention, as in, chattel slavery in the Americas and the routine enslavement of…

    Could you explain how Roman slavery was not Chattel slavery? I mean it certainly had nothing to do with race short of we beat you in a war now you’re slaves, but I’m pretty sure that chattel slavery just means that slaves are the property of their masters which was true for the Roman. However an excellent post and it’s saddening to think that the problem exists in the US where people are assumed to be slaves if they have a certain skin colour before the 1860s.

    I’m more referring to how Roman slaves could have upward social mobility, could own property, often had valuable skills (like physicians) or high degrees of education, gained various legal protections over the years, could become citizens with voting rights after manumission, and that “Roman slavery was a nonracist and fluid system” (Stefan Goodwin, Africa in Europe: Antiquity into the Age of Global Expansion (Lexington Books, 2009), vol. 1, p. 41).  It had nothing to do with race.

    The term “American chattel slavery” is often used to make the differentiation but I understand why it would be confusing here. But it was a very notably different system in many ways; although they’re both definitely forms of slavery, they’re not the same thing.

    It’s an ugly distinction to make so baldly, but it might be easier to understand the difference if we consider the modern English word descended from chattel: cattle. The U.S. system of chattel slavery literally treated a people as if they were livestock, a facet of slavery that never happened on such a wide scale of time and space in earlier practices.


    and the slaves were largely not from italy. many of them were black. black people in Rome WERE treated with racism. 

    No one’s making the claim that Rome was a glorious land of equal opportunity where everyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps and rise to a lofty position.

    As distinctions go, “not as hideous and dehumanizing as the U.S. chattel slavery system” isn’t high praise, or even a spirited defense. It’s just a necessary distinction to make when putting the more modern practice of industrial grade slavery in perspective.

    that’s not the claim i’m even saying is wrong. i think it’s GROSS to try and say that race and class were not related in rome, and that black people weren’t more likely to be slaves in ancient rome than white-skinned romans. like, it really angers me when white people try to come in WITHOUT EVIDENCE trying to act like rome did not have institutionalized racism. maybe not as explicitly as America, but it was definitely there

    Do you want to explain more or give some references on that then? It’s obviously much, much more complicated than I’ve explained it here, but you also have to consider that the starting point was someone immediately associating Black people with slavery.

    If you posit that Black Romans were more likely to be enslaved than any other people in Rome, or more than Romans we would consider “white”, like, go for it. We can take the discussion from there. All I’m really trying to explain is that they were very different systems.

    I think that people actually coming to the defense of Roman slavery like it was good or something is definitely A Thing that is weird and I’ve seen before, I don’t get it and I think it’s pretty suspicious. I really hope I didn’t come off that way, and I sincerely apologize if I did.

    There’s a good bit of scholarship on the ancient world and Greek and Roman writing specifically regarding Black people, othering, perceptions of people’s relative appearances and personalities (they were super into that), and whether or not we can create an analog to modern racism, and/or trace the roots of racism to the ancient cultures idealized in the European Renaissance.

    What I haven’t seen is a definitive connection between race and class in Roman culture. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t seen it, in which case, I welcome the education. I don’t think it’s out of line to try and undermine the automatic assumption that race-based chattel slavery in the ancient world was a given, or point out that it has much more to do with recent history than ancient history.

    Someone was just telling me they picked up The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (52 pages available here):

    and I’m super jealous because like TBH I can’t afford half the books I WANT to own, and between work and this blog and “other stuff” I just don’t always have the time to read them, either.

    I’m especially captivated by this passage on “objectivity” in historical scholarship:

    In fact, it does not exist in practice. What exists, however, is a pretense at objectivity by students who often ignore the fact that their views are wholly determined and thus distorted by current consensus. Such were my considerations when I published a book about Roman frontier policy and imperialism in the East in 1990. It seemed to me only fair to say something about my personal perspective in thinking about the problems at hand. I thought a candid admission that I was intellectually and emotionally involved in the subject of my studies would show that I was aware of my limitations and tried to use my personal experience to advantage in my ruminations.

    I must admit that I found it surprising when a few critics, encouraged by this admission, used it against me and accused me of openly acknowledged bias in my views. It seemed to me then, and seems to me true today, that authors who are aware of their perspective have a better chance of delivering lucid analysis, than those who pretend that their experience in life plays no role in their work.

    The thing is, everything I personally have read on this topic concerns “the existence of skin-color based prejudice”, which is definitely important to explore but is a far cry from “systematic racism pervasive in society”, which is what our current views on the topic are affected by. Because that’s what we live in now.

    Like, it is SO incredibly complex and I get that oversimplification is a problem, but at the same time, I need to be concise and pretty direct sometimes to try and build a bridge between knee-jerk assumptions or associations, and getting to a more accurate yet infinitely more challenging understanding of the past and how it affects our lives.

  6. 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!

  7. Ancient Art Week!
Egyptian Scarab Amulets with Faces of Black Men
Egypt (c. 6th Century B.C.E.)
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.

Far from mere curiosities, the black-head scarabs in fact form an important link in the transmission of the image of black people between Egypt and the nascent world of classical Greece. In the late archaic period of Greek history, when the Naukratis heads were made, fuller historical and artistic evidence offers useful insight into the process of transmission of the image of black people to other lands and cultures.

Read the Full Article at TheRoot

    Ancient Art Week!

    Egyptian Scarab Amulets with Faces of Black Men

    Egypt (c. 6th Century B.C.E.)

    Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.

    Far from mere curiosities, the black-head scarabs in fact form an important link in the transmission of the image of black people between Egypt and the nascent world of classical Greece. In the late archaic period of Greek history, when the Naukratis heads were made, fuller historical and artistic evidence offers useful insight into the process of transmission of the image of black people to other lands and cultures.

    Read the Full Article at TheRoot

  8. Ancient Art Week!

    Various Roman Sculptures

    Out of the many works of art that survive from Roman times, some only exist as fragments. I wanted to share some of these fragments with you all because I think a lot of people underestimate just how many images of Romans of color exist.

    Some of these are from Roman Egypt, some are copies of Greek originals, some are actually small vases or perfume bottles,  but each one has been determined to be a Black person by the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University and included in their Image of the Black in Western Art collection.

    On the heels of the conversation (controversy?) yesterday about Sleeping Black Man and some of the questions asked that may not have been answered (or have answers), I wanted to showcase how diverse these pieces are, and how different from each other they look. They come from all walks of life, are of various ages, and each one seems highly individual, rather than of a type. Some may be portraits. Some may be intended as caricatures or amusing pieces, like the old man sticking out his tongue.

    Roman terracottas were produced everywhere from England to Egypt, and each area has its own distinct styles.The small bottles, called unguentariums or balsamariums, are debated within academic circles as to what they were actually used for. The marbles are most likely portraits, but usually descriptions or textual analogs for individual sculptures don’t survive.

    1. Bust of a black man or woman with tight corkscrew curls, painted eyes, and slightly open mouth. Roman, 2nd half II century A.D. Marble. Napoli, Museo Nazionale.

    2. Head of an Egyptian man with a large lump on top of his head, which is shaved except for a braid (?) hanging down the back. Roman, early IV century A.D. Marble. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.

    3. Head of a black youth with tight curls and slightly open mouth (nose and chin damaged). Roman, n.d. Gray Basalt, 20 cm. Napoli, Museo Nazionale.

    4. Bust of a black man; part of top and back of head missing. Roman, Imperial Period. Bronze, 8.6 cm. London, Collection of Herbert James Powell Bomford.

    5. Balsamarium in form of a bust of a black youth wearing a necklace. Roman, n.d. Bronze, 13 cm. Musée national du Louvre, Département des Antiquités grecques et romaines.

    6. Statuette fragment: Head of a black man or woman with a diadem encircling a voluminous coiffure. Roman, 1st. Century B.C.E. Terracotta. Cittá del Vaticano, Musei Vaticani, Museo Gregoriano Egizio.

    7. Head of an old man sticking out his tongue. Roman, n.d. Terracotta. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.

    8. Head of a laughing man wearing a smooth beret. Roman, 1st. Century B.C.E. Terracotta, 3.9 cm. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.

    9. Statuette (fragment): Head of a black man with puffed-out cheeks. Roman Egypt, n.d. Terracotta, 4.2 cm. London, British Museum, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

    10. Statuette fragment: head of a child. Roman, n.d. Terracotta, 3.4 cm. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.

  9. Janet Stephens, Independent Scholarship, and Roman Hairstyles



    overlordrae replied to your post: eruditefag asked:I’m just wonderi…

    Asking about how qualified someone is in academia always brings to mind how a hairdresser discovered how Roman hairstyles were done when many thought the portrait styles were just idealized fancy.

    Janet Stephens, tearing down ur Ivory Tower:

    Stephens, a hairdresser based in Baltimore, took a trip to the Walters Art Museum back in 2001 and learned about the intricate hairdos worn by Vestal Virgins so she could duplicate them herself. But she ended up delving further into the fashion and art history books than she’d anticipated. Four years later, Stephens made a phenomenal discovery that she says “essentially changed the field of classical hair studies.”

    While reading Roman literature, she stumbled across the term “acus” which has been translated to “hairpin.” But Stephens’ experience with embroidery sparked the theory that these ancient hairdos were actually created using a needle and thread — which was pretty convincing. Her findings were published in the 2008 edition of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.

    "That quote everyone was referencing for centuries, but no one took it literally until I came along," she said. “Maybe that was the naivety in me.”

    When she’s not cutting, coloring and highlighting at Studio 921 Salon and Day Spa in Baltimore, Stephens is practicing what she preaches by recreating ancient Roman hairstyles at home. Her YouTube channel includes tutorials featuring background on the women who wore these intricate hairdos, insight on their hair textures, the types of styling tools used and how they’d maintain these looks.



    Y’all help I can’t stop watching these ancient roman hairstyling vids.

    1. dang they had crazy hair ok?
    3. Who thought up these hairstyles like seriously it was some sort of party where they tried to build houses with hair or something
    4. Someone thought this hairstyle up.  Now Janet Stephens recreates it.  At the end of the vid she even shows how to do those weird curl crowns that look like headbands but nope it’s hair.

    SERiously!!!! I think people are underestimating just HOW COOL THIS IS:


    Classical Greek Hairstyle:

    ^ I would even do that!

  10. thestolencaryatid:

    showcasing these Attic vase paintings to demonstrate palpable evidence of PoC existing during the classical period in Athens, groundbreaking information right here folks, totally subverts everything you thought you knew about the west!!! as you can see on the vase on the left versus the vase on the right, a race theory was clearly burgeoning in the Athenian mind, there were people of different skin colors and the dialectical reversal of skin colors using red & black contrast technique indubitably showcases it right here 

    you heard it first at medievalpoc

    Ahhhh, okay apparently you have a huge problem with this blog.

    I’ll stop responding then, and let you enjoy your mockery in peace.

    Just a thought, though, is like, well actually sometimes Black Figure technique was used to denote race:

    The Departure of Memnon for Troy. Greek, circa 550-525 B.C. Black-figure vase. Brussels, Museés royaux d’Art et d’Histoire

    A black archer, carrying a short bow and wearing a quiver of arrows on his back, turns his head to the rear as he strides to the left. His features, seen in strict profile, are unmistakably black. His nose is pointed and slightly upturned, and his hair bordering the forehead is rendered in sketchy, loose curls to indicate their coiled form. Around his head is a red band, the sign of a ruler, akin to a diadem or crown. Flanking him are two light-skinned women warriors, or Amazons. The scene appears on a painted clay jar, or amphora, a vessel used in ancient Greece for holding wine and other liquids.

    Modern scholars all relate this simple scene to one of the last moments of the Trojan War. The black man is Memnon, the great warrior said to be from “Aethiopia,” who is briefly mentioned by Homer in the Iliad, the epic account of the struggle between Greece and Troy. The story of Memnon was greatly enlarged upon by subsequent writers, who relate his arrival at Troy with innumerable troops. Although Achilles slays him in battle, in the manner of the Greek epic, Memnon’s fame only increases, and he is made immortal by the gods.

    From the heroic age of Homer until the more clearly documented time of the historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., Aethiopia was more a vast, vaguely conceived zone at the southern edge of the world than a place understood through direct experience. The origin of the name is rooted in Greek words for fire and light. Memnon’s home generally was held to be in the East, often in ancient Persia. As a consequence, the hero was thought of as perhaps darker than the Greeks themselves, but definitely not black. 

    By the late sixth century B.C., however, about the time this vase was made, the philosopher Xenophanes had characterized Aethiopians more specifically as black Africans. Half a century later, Herodotus, who actually traveled up the Nile, described ancient Aethiopia as roughly equivalent to the modern region of Nubia, lying to the south of Egypt. He writes that it is a land inhabited by black people, of sunburnt complexions, where “the men are taller, handsomer and longer lived than anywhere else.” Nubian bowmen were also renowned for their deadly accuracy, and it is likely in reference to this skill that Memnon is shown on the vase as an archer rather than equipped with the more standard spear and shield.

    From the depiction of a mythological black figure, it was a logical jump for Greek artists to focus on black people of the everyday world. The representation of blacks of all types, both humble and exalted, became an enduring feature throughout the centuries-long course of Greco-Roman civilization. Although the complete absence of color prejudice in antiquity may be open to discussion, the representation of black people during this vibrant period indicates a degree of acceptance regrettably uncommon in other historical periods.

    The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root’s editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek.