When Black Venus Was the Ideal Standard of Beauty

 

Image of the Week: The concept of the goddess as a black woman intrigued and challenged the esthetic sensibility of the Renaissance.

Posted: July 22 2014 3:00 AM

IOW-Black Venus.16th century.3.2mb

Photo:  French or Netherlandish, Black Venus, second half of the 16th century. Bronze, 40.3 cm high.

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK CITY

This image is part of a weekly series that The Root is presenting in conjunction with theImage of the Black Archive & Library at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

 

A beautiful black woman stands in an elegantly twisting pose, her naked body rising in a series of fluidly shifting forms. She is the embodiment of Venus, the ocean-born goddess of physical beauty and earthly love. The highly finished, shining patina of the bronze surface evokes the glistening appearance of the goddess’s dark skin as she emerges from her bath. Her divine origin is revealed not only by the mirror but also by the small towel held in her other hand. Around her head is wrapped a long strip of cloth, a rather domestic-looking attribute not usually found in representations of the goddess.

 

This remarkable conception of ideal beauty is profoundly marked by the legacy of the classical world. Even so, nowhere in ancient Greek or Roman art—or in the artist’s own period of the late Renaissance, for that matter—had the body of Venus been imagined beyond the ethnic confines of the Mediterranean Sea. The head of the figure is clearly that of a black woman.

 

Standing not much more than a foot high, this elegant statuette was once attributed to the Northern Italian sculptor Danese Cattaneo. Though its assignment to him is generally rejected now, the true identity of the black Venus remains elusive. Current scholarship favors either Barthélemy Prieur, a French sculptor of innovative tomb monuments, or Johan Gregor van der Schardt, a somewhat lesser-known but similarly accomplished artist born in the Netherlands.

 

Each artist was thoroughly familiar with the dominant aesthetic of Italian sculpture, especially van der Schardt, who had spent his youth working in the major artistic centers of Northern and Central Italy. This region became the fountainhead of culture for artists of the period, inspired in part by the example of Michelangelo. The elongated proportions, refined surfaces and continual engagement of the eye around the figure constitute the typical artistic vocabulary of the mannerist phase of 16th-century Renaissance art.

 

The artist who so skillfully wrought the black Venus exemplifies the formally refined, erudite tastes of the ruling elite of Europe during a period when art served as one of the primary expressions of temporal power. Prieur had been granted the position of court sculptor for the French King Henry IV, while van der Schardt held the same post, first for Maximilian II, the Holy Roman emperor reigning at Prague and Vienna, then for the king of Denmark.

 

The conception of the divine figure of Venus as a black woman simultaneously intrigued and challenged the esthetic sensibility of the Renaissance. The existence today of at least 13 examples of this statuette attests to the popularity of the theme during the 16th and 17th centuries. Presented as the supreme exemplar of the female form, Venus raises a mirror to her face in order to contemplate her own features. Her self-referencing gaze lies somewhere between superficial admiration and a more elevated reflection on created beauty. Her internal absorption in turn invites the viewer to replicate the experience from a more personal perspective.

 

Such an extremely intimate conflation of form and divine essence was best experienced on a small scale. Though created for those whose public authority took the form of lavish chateaux and grand rituals of state, statuettes such as this one were reserved for the private delectation of rulers and their immediate circle. Prompted by newly developed aesthetics of beauty and a widening awareness of the world, connoisseurs who gathered around this intimately scaled work could ponder its unique coalescence of race, physical form and the cultural derivation of physical attractiveness.

 

Though the precise meaning of this elegant image of the black goddess remains elusive, her appearance here marks an early phase of the incorporation of the black figure within the loftiest modes of Western cultural expression. At a time when the true nature of the black African world was not well understood, the images of its inhabitants were often incorporated into the more familiar context of European literature and art.

 

The black Venus brings to mind the dark-complected Andromeda, the daughter of the king of Ethiopia, saved from her fate as a sacrificial victim by the hero Perseus. The concept of the dark-skinned goddess can also be likened to contemporary court drama. A primary example is the Masque of Darkness,produced by Inigo Jones for King James I of England in the early 17th century.

 

The plot of this grand spectacle—part allegory and part political set piece, and performed by noble ladies of the court in blackface—turned around a complex play on the aesthetic contrast between darkness and lightness. Niger, the god of the River Nile in Egypt, sends his daughters to Britannia, also styled as Albion, literally the “land of whiteness.” Against his wishes, the young women desire to lighten their skin. In an all-too-familiar attempt to fit in, a sophisticated engagement with the ancient theme of conversion from black to white ensues. Beneath its formal trappings, this form of ethnic alchemy, couched in myth and fantasy, may also reflect the uneasiness felt by Europeans when confronted by the African presence in their midst.

In contrast with the whitened skin fervently sought by Niger’s daughters, the black Venus fully accepts the appeal of her dark beauty. Her figure represents an attempt on the allegorical level to incorporate Africanness within the European experience. Once posited, however, the effortless grace of this conception of black beauty enjoyed only a brief reign. From the private delectation of monarchs and the intelligentsia, other, more compromised agendas were quickly imposed on the ideal form of the black Venus.

 

Her grace and composure inspired a potent new image of the continent of Africa, represented as a metaphor, in elegant female guise, of the global agenda of European expansion. In the ultimate irony, her figure even came to stand for the transatlantic slave trade itself, the maritime origin of Venus twisted as a euphemistic gloss on the real horrors of the practice.

 

Still, her original acceptance within the rarefied sphere of connoisseurship may not have occurred in vain. Seen as a presence worthy of emulation, the black Venus could also inspire those who staunchly opposed the depredations of slavery and the oppression of Africa’s children.

The Image of the Black Archive & Library resides at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. The founding director of the Hutchins Center is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also chairman of The Root. 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.

Source: http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2014/07/blacks_in_western_art_when_black_venus_was_the_ideal_standard_of_beauty.html

Black Love, Marriage, and Family

 

 

Black Love & Marriage

 

Amanirenas: Warrior Queen of the Meroitic Kingdom of Kush

 

Remarkable Women in History by Country: Sudan Amanirenas The Kingdom of Kush lay to the South of Egypt and is famous for its more pointed pyramids. Several Queens have ruled Kush, but one of the greatest is certainly Amanirenas. Ruling for about 30 years, she led her forces against the Romans in Egypt. After initial success, the Romans pushed back. A peace treaty was then signed, by terms favorable to Kush. A contemporary of Cleopatra, Amanirenas was probably blind in one eye. Masterlist of Countries: remarkable women in history

Amanirenas (also spelled Amanirena) was a queen of the Meroitic Kingdom of Kush.

Her full name and title was Amnirense qore li kdwe li (“Ameniras, Qore and Kandake”).[1]

She reigned from about 40 BCE to 10 BCE. She is one of the most famous kandakes, because of her role leading Kushite armies against the Romans from in a war that lasted five years, from 27 BCE to 22 BCE. After an initial victory when the Kushites attacked Roman Egypt, they were driven out of Egypt by Gaius Petronius and the Romans established a new frontier at Hiere Sycaminos (Maharraqa).[2][3] Amanirenas was described as brave, and blind in one eye.

Meroitic inscriptions give Amanirenas the title of qore as well as kandake suggesting that she was a ruling queen. She is usually considered to be the queen referred to as “Candace” in Strabo’s account of the Meroitic war against the Roman Empire. Her name is associated with those of Teriteqas and Akinidad. The scheme first proposed by Hintze suggests that King Teriteqas died shortly after the beginning of the war. She was succeeded by Akinidad (possibly the son of Teriteqas) who continued the campaign with his mother Amanirenas. Akinidad died at Dakka c.24BC. [4]

Read more here

 

 

The Presence of Afro-Mexicans Blacks in Mexico

The Presence of Afro-Mexicans
Blacks in Mexico

Contrary to common knowledge, particularly among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, is that Mexico, like other Latin-American nations, have African blood as well as indigenous and Spanish. Mexican people of indigenous ancestry, to this day, play ancient instruments, such as African hand pianos (or marimbas) in songs and dances of African influence (corridos), which tell stories of slave revolts and ancestral tributes.

Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negroes,” and a free black town called Yanga was established.

A Mexican-American woman asked me during a discussion as to where I am getting my information. Although there are many books on this topic, I told her to check out one by Mexico’s renown, late anthropologist and professor at the University of Vera Cruz. His name is Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. The book is entitled, La Población Negra de México (The Black Population of Mexico), where he talks about more than 500,000 African slaves being brought in through Mexico’s Port of Vera Cruz between the Cortez invasion in 1519 and Mexican independence in 1810.

Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods.

 

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mexico enslaved more Africans than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. African slaves worked in silver mines, on sugar plantations, in textile factories, and in households. Others worked in skilled trade or on cattle ranches. In addition, Afro-Mexican people made significant contributions in folktales, religion, medicinal practices, and of course, music and dance; the most notable example is the hit song La Bamba, first popularized by rock-n-roll star Richie Valens out of Pacoima, CA. This song was sung and danced to by black Mexican slaves as early as 1683. See more about this in… La Bamba: The Soul of Black Mexican Folks.

Mexico’s first root is the native population before the Spanish invasion.

About one-tenth of Mexico’s slaves escaped to remote, armed runaway settlements called palenques and were a total menace to slave holders. In Mexico’s state of Vera Cruz, Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negros,” and a free black town called Yanga was established. See… African History in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Slavery in Mexico was finally abolished in 1829 by Mexico’s Afro-Mexican president Vicente Guerrero. See…The Soul of Mexican Independence.

The Spanish represents Mexico’s second root, who brought in African slaves making up Mexico’s third root.

Beltrán further points out in his 1946 published work that Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods, and the Spanish made up the remainder. After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable, except in Mexico’s states of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca.. Yet, Africans in Mexico left their cultural and genetic imprint everywhere they lived.

After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable.

I would be remiss not to point out that Mexican history also includes 19th century African-American slaves and Seminole people (so-called Indians) who fled what is now known as the State of Florida to the Mexican border state of Coahuila where their descendants live there to this day.

http://ahorasecreto.blogspot.se/2011/07/mexicos-third-root.html

Little Known Black History Fact

Little Known Black History Fact~Bill Richmond, a.k.a. the “Black Terror”, was the first African-American to be labeled an international “prizefighter.” Born a slave in the area that is now called Richmondtown in Staten Island, Richmond also served as a hangman during the Revolutionary War. His most famous hanging was Nathaniel Hale, the first American to be labeled a spy. Having His first professional fight in 1804, the self-taught welterweight would fight men 4 and 5 times his size and win.:

Little Known Black History Fact~Bill Richmond, a.k.a. the “Black Terror”, was the first African-American to be labeled an international “prizefighter.” Born a slave in the area that is now called Richmondtown in Staten Island, Richmond also served as a hangman during the Revolutionary War. His most famous hanging was Nathaniel Hale, the first American to be labeled a spy. Having His first professional fight in 1804, the self-taught welterweight would fight men 4 and 5 times his size and win. Richmond earned his prizefighter status after he defeated Jack Holmes in 26 rounds at Kilburn. He was most famous for his fight against Tom Cribb, a famous English bare-knuckle boxer. Although Richmond was faster than Cribb, he was beaten in the 60th round of the match. In 1809, he won 100 guineas after beating George Maddox after fighting 52 rounds.After he retired from boxing, Richmond married a wealthy woman and bought a pub called the Horbill-se and Dolphin with his final winnings of his last fight. He also opened a boxing academy to teach young men his boxing skills.In 1999, Bill Richmond was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

http://blackamericaweb.com/2013/06/06/bill-richmond-boxer-little-known-black-history-fact/