Sunday, 19 September 2010

Black In the Raphael Tapestries for Sistine Chapel ?

I had the great pleasure of seeing the Raphael Cartoons and Tapestries on show at the V&A to celebrate the Pope’s visit.I was even more delighted to spot what I believe to be a Black. You can find him in far left hand scene in the border of the Tapestry of Christ’s Charge to Peter see below.

The border tells the story of the expulsion of the Medici family, previously rulers of Florence, from the city in November 1494. Encouraged and supported by il Moro the Duke of Milan , ignored by The Pope (Rome), Venice and Naples, Charles VIII of France was ready to wrestle Florence from Medici power with little or no resistance from Florence , as it was left beleaguered by its neighbouring city states.

Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici who was later to become Leo X – the Pope who commissioned the Cartoons for the Tapestries from Raphael – escaped during the night disguised as a Dominican monk in order to convey some of the Medici treasures. Those treasures he or his brother could not carry are shown being looted by a mob, represented as warriors in classical armour. The Black is shown helping carrying away some booty – see below.

The Black’s body is framed by an arched doorway, with his intricately woven head has two indistinct faces either side of it. He seems not to be wearing armour unlike others in front of him, his top appears to be made of cloth with torn sleeves in contrast to the looters. His nose is full and flared and he has characteristically negroid thick fleshy lips, unlike the Black Magus from Devon , this Black has been drawn by an artist who at least seen a black man, which is probably true as the Medici had black slaves. On the east wall panel of the Chapel of the Magi in Palazzo Medici frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli a naturally depicted black slave livered in Medici colours is depicted leading the Patriarch’s mule.

The Black in the Tapestry’s border is further differentiated as unlike his co-patriots he is not wearing a helmet instead he is wearing what can only be described as a Rastafarian Tam. Further he is towards the back not leading the group, typical of the Black’s position in Renaissance paintings' compositions where the Black is normally towards the rear as in Giotto Black or the V&A’s Black Magus.

His poor dress in comparison to the others , his distinctive negroid facial characteristics , his odd head gear along with his position to the rear in the group as well as his typical blackman's raggedly beard further differentiate him from the group not just making him – ‘other’ , not one of ‘us’ but making him , to my eye, a Black.

Cardini, F. (2001) The Chapel of the Magi in Plazzo Medici, Mandragora, Florence
Evans, M. et al, (2010) RAPHAEL Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, V&A Publishing, Italy
Hibbert, C. (1974) The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, Penguin, St Ives


Anonymous said...

Well spotted - looks like the guys behind him could also be black slaves.

Anonymous said...

Alessandro de’ Medici (“il Moro”), recognized as the son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici, but likely the natural son of Pope Clement VII de’ Medici and the mulatto servant Simonetta da Collevechio, was also of color. He was made Duke of Penne and the first hereditary Duke of Florence as the last of the Medici senior branch. Portraits of Alessandro attesting to his mixed race are readily available on the Net. The history surrounding the highly regarded Ethiopian guard and church in contemporary Europe might also be of interest. Regards.