Monday, February 4, 2013

Black History Month Monday—Blackamoor Art

Blackamoor figurines available for sale on Richard Trautwein's  Etsy shop, ToysnSuch.

I’ve written before about my extensive collection of decorating books and my interest in interior design. Within these books, I’ve seen many photographs of homes graced with Blackamoor statues, and I’ve often wondered, what are these things? Are they racist? Are they cool? What’s the history? Because I see them everywhere and not just as decorative home objects. I collect vintage jewelry, and I’ve also seen plenty of Blackamoore charms and pendants. They are expensive, but I still kind of want one, because some of them are quite beautiful. But I can’t get one, because I have no idea if that’d be okay, or if Blackamoors are to be treated with the same disdain as those Anthropologie Mammie candlesticks that had to be pulled from the shelves.

So, this Black History Month Monday, I decided to do a little research about Blackamoor figures and answer some questions once and for all.

According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know some like to diss the Wik, but I’m not one of those), in its most general sense, a Blackamoor is a depiction of a black African figure. Many times these figures are wearing some sort of headpiece and often they are adorned with jewels. Blackamoor as a decorative art form goes back centuries, at least as early as the seventeen hundreds.

But some people have serious objections to these depictions. Dolce & Gabbana was criticized as racist for the inclusion of Blackamoor images and jewelry in its Spring 2013 collection. When the fashion website Refinery29 reported on the story, commenter fakefighter responded, “And as per usual they featured NOT ONE black model this season, which had 87 looks! Black people are apparently not actual people, but motifs to be fetishised in clothing.” Even though I personally find many of these images quite striking, I think this commenter has a point.

Racialicious author Rama Musa posted an excellent article on the European obsession with African figures in which she wrote, “As early as the 1200s, African servants played a fashionable role in European courts. Rare, exotic, and expensive, their black bodies became synonymous with luxury.” Okay, this is getting a little creepy. She continued, “Marchesa of Mantua Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) went through extraordinary lengths to procure African children as human accessories.” Now it’s official. As one of my good friends would say, “What the food truck?”

But you know what? The human figure has long been portrayed in the arts. As I write this posting, I’m wearing a cameo bracelet depicting Victorian ladies. I know the historical significance isn’t the same, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that the artisan who crafted my antique bracelet very likely had in common with the artisans who crafted these Blackamoor figures a love of beauty and the desire to capture that beauty in art. It may be self-serving, but I could see myself purchasing one of these pieces (not those by high-end jewelers like Cartier that cost a gazillion dollars, mind you) and reclaiming it as an intriguing and beautiful portrayal of an African figure that has meaning for me because my ancestors were African.

What do you think? Should Blackamoor jewels and statutes be reviled or celebrated as lovely pieces of art?


  1. yes, because they are beautiful pieces of Art and although the ones who produce the jewelry might have racial intention, I see it as them really telling us subliminally that OUR Ancestors were the true Kings and Queens, and they immortalized us. So yeah I will be purchasing a few pieces because my black Is BEAUTIFUL.

  2. want to sale my blackamoor stand lamp old

  3. Many pieces of historical art can be linked to ideas or actions that were oppressive or undesirable. The religious art in Europe needs to be seen against wars, the inquisition, and the killing of Catholics by Protestants (and vice versa). Hundreds of generations of all women have been recorded in artistic forms while living in cultures where they had no rights to hold property, live independently, or have any say in government.If we can only enjoy art forms which conform to the views of the age in which we live (however enlightened), we would consign much of beauty to the refuse heap of political correctness. I would buy your Blackamoor and enjoy without gilt, I do not think that to do so is an anyone.

  4. Many of these elegant art pieces were commissioned by the royal houses, barons, lords, Knights, and other aristocrats of Europe who in fact were Black--for example King Charles II is described as a tall Black man about 6'2" --- Duke of Hamilton (Scotland : 1658-1712) is described as having a Black coarse complexion -- Earl of Middleton (Scotland : 1640-1719) is described as a black man of middle stature with a sanguine complexion -- Thomas Butler / Earl of Ormonde (Ireland : 1532-1614) was called from his dark complexion 'Black Earl' -- Lord Thomas Fairfax from his dark complexion was nicknamed "The
    Black Tool" -- Duke Charles of Somerset /Master of the Horse is described as having a very Black complexion and well shaped.--- Earl of Abington / Montagu Ventables Berti is described as a Black Man Forty years old. ---Richard, Earl of Ranlagh is described as a very fat Black man ... These are just a few of many.. More can be found in the Dictionary of National Biography. Hence the reason for the luxurious black jewelry ... It depicted the rulers of that time.

    1. Kaleb, thank you for this information! Fascinating!

  5. I love blackamoor broaches and buy one whenever I can find one that is affordable for me. They are gorgeous. If we knew more about our history and loved ourselves more, we wouldn't be so easily offended. Oh by the way, I love Aunt Jemima too. I don't let others define me for me. Thank you Mom and Dad and Mama Nette.
    Katrina Breeding