Moving images

Finding Black Saints in Western Art

The Root is shining a light on a tradition of European artists. While enslavement of black Africans was prevalent in the Middle East, Europe, and The New World for a vast number of years, in sophisticated artwork, they were shown as Gods, mythic figures, saints, and kings, write Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and David Bindman. "The master-slave relation between Europeans and black Africans, it turns out, was just one theme among many others in Western art." In Germany, during the 1240s, the first image of a black saint appears in the form of St. Maurice, a third-century martyr. And in the early 15th century, artists in Germany began depicting one of the three Magi as a black monarch bringing myrrh—symbolizing the Christians' hope for conversion of Africans—to the infant Jesus. Gates and Bindman are currently co-editing the final four volumes of The Image of the Black in Western Art due next year to accompany four already-published volumes which look at Africans present in artwork through the end of the 17th century.