Sunday, 7 September 2008

Blacks In Renaissance England

Despite the fact that no black King visited England during the period there was a well understood iconography associated and attitude towards blacks.

Prof Kath Lowe in her article in Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (BTW this is the book the Blog takes its name from the acronym of the book’s title) looked at travel journals, costume books, legal documents, paintings, jokes and books to understand how blacks were viewed –to determine what was the instinctive cultural response to blacks at the time.

There were two broad areas of difference - blacks were seen as slaves as these were the only blacks known to the majority and that they were culturally inferior. Aristotle argued there were the civilised and the barbarians, he determined a list of criteria by which the former could be accessed. Black Africans fail on every count for example the civilised wore clothes according to Aristotle , and the style and quality of their clothing, through sumptuary laws, reflected status in society. Black African went around naked so they must be totally uncivilised - barbarians!

Culturally blacks were stereotyped:
  • They had body marks and wore gold jewellery
  • They lacked appreciation of civility and civilisation being: lazy, irresponsible, sexually promiscuous, drunk and prone to criminality..and seen laughing public!
  • They could only do certain jobs: those requiring physical work , horsemen, swordsmen, guards, musicians, dancers.
Some of these attribute can be seen in the black Magus reflecting the dichotomy in the image of the Black Magus as King and the reality of the black as a barbarian and slave.

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