RACE MATTERS: Seeing the Black Figure in the European TraditionLondon
In 1706 Andrea Brustolon completed a grand suite of furniture for the Venetian Venier family’s Palazzo Fondamenta San Vio. Many of the forty pieces were “blackamoor” stands or guéridons designed to display their collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain vases.* The virtuoso modeling and lustrous wood finishes of the stunning suite of furniture is a dramatic incarnation of the blackamoor fashion in Venice. Carved out of ebony, the shining bodies of these Black youths are chained to their stands, unequivocally and unapologetically linking this trend in decorative furnishing to slavery in a manner. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these objects are the large chains draped like elaborate adornment around their necks. They are the troubling garniture of slavery meant to restrain the menace of the Black body. From the mid seventeenth century onward, the decorative blackamoor figure was à la mode in opulent European furnishings. Although far removed from the toil of colonial slavery, these Black bodies mirror slaves and servants in the colonies whose labor helped to fuel the very same luxury economy they so artfully embodied.**
* Erin J. Campbell, “Balancing Act: Andrea Brustolon’s ‘La Forza’ and the Display of Imported Porcelain in Eighteenth-Century Venice” in The Cultural Aesthetics of Eighteenth-Century Porcelain, ed. Alden Cavanaugh and MIchael E. Yonan (Ashgate, 2010).
** Adrienne L. Childs, “A Blackamoor’s Progress: The Ornamental Black Body in European Furniture,” in ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana Readings, ed. Awam Ampka (Rome, 2017), pp. 95–115.