This highly original book opens up the almost entirely neglected area of the black African presence in Western Europe during the Renaissance. Covering history, literature, art history and anthropology, it investigates a whole range of black African experience and representation across Renaissance Europe, from various types of slavery to black musicians and dancers, from real and symbolic Africans at court to the views of the Catholic Church, and from writers of African descent to Black African criminality. Their findings demonstrate the variety and complexity of black African life in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Europe, and how it was affected by firmly held preconceptions relating to the African continent and its inhabitants, reinforced by Renaissance ideas and conditions. Of enormous importance both for European and American history, this book mixes empirical material and theoretical approaches, and addresses such issues as stereotypes, changing black African identity, and cultural representation in art and literature.
Like Alexandre Dumas, the author of Man In The Iron Mask, Lethiere was a man of color. (I am hoping that the presence of this painting in Rhode Island will prove providential. For, RISD was founded by Providence’s art community to celebrate the prize which one of their members – the African American Edward Bannister – won for landscape painting at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.)
Biographical material on Lethiere always mention he was the illegitimate son of a colonial official from the French West Indian island of Guadalupe. However, it was not until 1977, in a five-volume work on Ingres (who had been a student of his) that Lethiere’s mother was described as a mulatto. Judging from the portraits Ingres did of him, however, she was probably more Caucasian – no doubt, a quadroon like so many of the mixed blood women of the French colonies whether here in New Orleans or des Antilles, whose sway over their white masters had almost become legendary by the end of the 18th century. Read about his life here.
On his father’ side Peter Ustinov is a member of the old Russian nobility. But on his mother’s side, he is a member of the Ethiopian Royal Family. The origin of this interracial line was the marriage of his great grandfather, a Swiss military engineer, with the daughter of the Emperor Theodore II. Forbidden to leave Ethiopia, as were the most valued of the Europeans who joined the Imperial service, the engineer had been wedded to the princess, apparently not only in compensation, but to insure his loyalty to the Emperor.
The former Ethiopian legation to Canada, who were then working with the Department of MultiCultural Affairs in Quebec related how, on a number of occasions, they had requested Ustinov to represent Ethiopia to the media in the same way that he had Russia during the years of the cold war when he appeared to be the only cultural liaison between the Soviet Union and the West. Apparently because of the racial climate at the time, Ustinov had not been able to rise to the occasion. Indeed, in his first two autobiographies, he described his great grandmother as a Portuguese woman at the Ethiopian court. It was not until sometime later that he acknowledged his royal genealogy during a CBC Radio interview.
Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom