Thursday, 21 December 2017

Dali's Three Kings

I was surprised to discover a version of The Three Kings by Salvador Dali - the Spanish Catalan painter best known for his surrealistic work, with its fantastic imagery and his flamboyant personality together making  him one of the best known artists of the period - the reason Hallmark cards commissioned him in 1959 to do a series of water colour Christmas card designs, one of which was The Three Kings.

Of the ten designs Dali submitted to Hallmark just two were actually produced as cards The Nativity and Madonna and Child, the remaining eight including The Three Kings are languishing in the Hallmark Archives.

Dali's three exotically dressed kings form an odd, disjointed composition as they follow a Platonic solid star in a barren rocky landscape, with the leading King's camel looking fearsomely aggressive while the Black King's camel holds its head high - aloof - indifferent to all around, while the remaining king's camel seems more horse than camel, the net effect is oddly disturbing!

The reasons not all Dali's designed became Hallmark Christmas cards was that they too, were equally troubling or odd mostly both! One image - Headless Angel Playing a Lute - was particularly disturbing but it clearly shows Dali's Renaissance influences as its source is Piero della Francesca work.

Left  Piero della Francesca (1470-5) The Nativity
Right Salvador Dali, Hallmark (1959 ) Christmas Card Design
Hallmark commissioned other noted artists to do Christmas card designs including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe so maybe there are other Three Kings to be found in their archives, meanwhile we can enjoy the Dali's oddly disturbing Three Kings.

Washington Post. 2014. Salvador Dali Christmas cards. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 December 2017].

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Runnymede 'Our Migration Story' Wins Award

Delighted to read that Runnymede 'Our Migration Story' web site is joint winner of the the Research Champion category in the Community Integration Awards 2017. My contribution was an African presence in thirteenth-century Britain.  It was a real pleasure to be part of the project which included so many great historians.  The judges had the following to say about the site:

'This project makes an important intervention in the much-needed conversation on migration, British colonial past and the legacy of the Empire. It challenges the history curricula and invites us to consider how the history of Britain is intermingled with the history of migration. This disrupts and unsettles the unhelpful, binary narratives around ‘Them and Us’, especially in the times of revival of nationalist sentiments in Britain.
It is a fantastic project, clearly with a massive involvement of historians, schools, and researchers, as well as with an excellent strategy of dissemination. It enriches the curriculum, makes research relevant and focuses on influencing future generations'.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tiziano Vecelli and Oswald Boateng: Two Masters of Colour for the Brown Body

Titian and Colour
Portrait of Laura Dianti & Diana and Actaeon

Whilst selecting the pictures for a tour of the National Gallery part of  The Image of the Black in London Galleries series I was studying the black servant in the 1556-9 piece by Tiziano Vecelli  aka Titian Diana and Actaeon, when I was struck by Titian's use of orange set against the brown skin of Diana's servant,  orange and brown skin go together so well. I speak from experience as one of my favourite shirts was a bright vivid orange one by the acclaimed Savile Row tailor and fashion designer Oswald Boating (I am big fan), sadly the shirt was worn out through use some time ago but its memory lives on!

Oswald Boateng and Colour
Pictures from

Oswald  is a master of colour,  especially those that  complement the black and the brown body. He uses not just oranges, but purples, greens, and yellows in his collections. Using himself as the muse for his ready to wear collection he creates some stunning looks, interworking ideas on colour and occasionally adding a African cloth to heightening the effect of his use of bright, vivid, almost acid colours.

Titian had a similar eye for colour five hundred years earlier when he choose that orange for that servant. That same sensitivity to colour can be seen in the multi coloured striped attire of the attendant in his 1520 Portrait of Laura Dianti. The little boy's multi striped costume contain not use any colours but all those colours that go so well with his brown skin.

So there we have two masters in their fields, one an artist the other a fashion designer and tailor, centuries and cultures apart yet coming to the same conclusion when selecting a colour palette to highlight the brown body,

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Unknown Black Portraits in a London Pub

Not the Renaissance but .......

The Harp (BARE Blog)

I’d forgotten pubs as idiosyncratically British as The Harp at Covent Garden still existed,  the Harp, was  especially interesting to me because of its black portraits.

Artist: Unknown, Sitter: Unknown, Date: Unknown 

I was introduced to The Harp at the close of  a very convivial lunch in St Martins Lane, my luncheon partner suggested a quiet pint in a local hostelry to complete the afternoon.

We walked down St Matins Lane and he insisted we turn into Brydges Place despite it being barely three feet wide. So narrow in fact we had to wait for an oncoming lady before we could enter in single file down the slim passage. Turns out that this is London's narrowest alley

Artists: Unknown, Sitters: Unknown, Dates: Unknown 

We entered The Harp through its rear entrance. It was a sublime experience from the dark narrow passage into what seemed a vast light filled room after the dark passage - the bar of  The Harp, formally known as the Welsh Harp , it was renamed by its Irish owner Bridget Walsh, sadly now deceased.

Bridget’s art buying covered the Harp’s walls, there are portraits of men&women, young&old,  beautiful&ugly and black&white everywhere. I’m sure a knowing eye would recognise some of the sitters I was unable to recognise any.

Artist: Unknown, Sitter: Unknown, Date: Unknown 

I spotted at least four portraits of black people. Sadly none of the artists or sitters are named like all the other portraits on display.

I enjoyed an excellent beer delivered by very friendly bar staff. The Harp was CAMRA pub of the year in 2011 and maintains Bridget’s tradition of stocking a wide range of hand pulled specialist cask beers.

The afternoon at the Harp finished with some good old chat amongst some lovely paintings in a quintessential London pub - styled with the hand and eye of its landlady – a brilliant way and a recommended way to end any afternoon as well as a great alternative to the near by National Portrait Gallery, if you’re interested in portraits!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

John Blanke Plaque at Greenwich Naval College ?

Following my visit to Greenwich Naval College visitors centre yesterday I am pleased to report that the BBC's  Black and British : A Forgotten History plaque to commemorate John Blanke the black trumpeter to the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII is in deed on display. However you may miss it as it is just to the left of the main entrance, high up amongst the centre's awards from Trip Adviser, English Tourist Board and others - see images below.

The choice of location was perhaps done in haste as it not at clear as to how or why the BBC's plaque fits in with its surroundings in the Naval College visitors centre. This despite the fact the central  image with Henry VIII jousting from the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll document in which John Blanke appears is a matter of  feet away, no connection is made to the Tournament Roll which made John Blanke famous.

Detail of information screen by the Tilting Yard exhibit (Tournament Roll highlighted)

On the Tournament Roll - total length sixty feet - John Blanke's image is close to the scene depicted   - about four feet away from. It would seem to make good sense to bring the information screen (see detail below) by the Titling Yard exhibit closer to the BBC's plaque in some way, perhaps updating the information screen with John Blanke's image and why the BBC chose the Naval College as the site for its comparative plaque.

Detail from the Westminster Tournament Roll
Highlighting Henry VIII and John Blanke
It is good to have the plaque on display at Greenwich Naval College, even better to explain why it is there making the connection between John Blanke, the Naval College and the visitor centre's exhibits.

You can follow the plaque's story through the Twitter Hashtag #JohnBlankePlaque and keep up with all things John Blanke at

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Black Magus - BBC Radio 3 The Essay

Very much enjoyed Prof Robert Beckford’s analysis of the black Magus on BBC Radio 3. 

Excellent mix of the personal and the researched , particularly intrigued by his discussion of the possible feminine interpretation of the black Magus.

Interesting to hear the black Magus figure in the Nativity scene was part of his up bringing:
As a child, the nativity scene always excited me.  Not just because its appearance meant the closeness of Christmas presents, but because of the return of the black Magus.
This is in contrast to myself as I do not recall the image at all as I grew up, I came to  the black Magus very late in life.

My only criticism - and it is petty - the nativity scene image on the BBC web site didn’t include a black Magus -  an opportunity missed.

Recommended listening.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Hipster Nativity

I was delighted when the Hipster Nativity was brought to my attention in a CNBC article. Really works for me,  especially with its black magus and the kings looking very cool on their Segways and dark glasses to protect their eyes from that bright star!

But it was not without controversy Casey Wright, co-founder of Modern Nativity the folks who make the Hipster Nativity told CNBC "We have quickly found out that this product is very polarizing. It's usually, 'this is hilarious, I need one,' or 'this is sacrilegious, I hope you burn in hell,' and almost nothing in between those two extremes,"

The default composition for the Nativity dates back to Francis of Assis in 1223. He used what was around him to tell the story of the birth of Jesus so what’s wrong with telling that same story today but using images and ideas from 2016 rather than 1223? New take on an old story - love it!