People of Color in EMEMH art
NPR had an interesting article on a tumblr blog, People of Color in European Art History. The topic raises some interesting methodological questions about historians’ use of art. And it made me immediately think of this painting:
I’ve always wondered about this portrait. Not the center of the painting: the Great-Captain-holding-a-marshal’s-baton-wearing-a-fancy-silk-sash-on-a-Rearing-Mount is standard iconographical fare (see a collection here). I mean the black attendant in the left corner. Uninitiated in the arcana that is art history, I wonder why he was included. Did Marlborough actually have (a) black servant(s)? Did most generals? Most English gentry? Did early modern blacks campaign in northern Europe, as later colonial troops would? Did Marlborough pick up some African slaves/servants from his early service at Tangier? I recall that in Caribbean siege capitulations, black slaves were included as property that evacuating garrison troops were allowed to take with them.
Or maybe the artist added this individual to evoke some Spanish (e.g. Moorish) connection or connotation? Or was the African page intended to simply provide variety among Marlborough’s many portraits? Did this insert an element of the exotic into an otherwise monotonous genre of great captain portraiture?
I can’t recall seeing any other black figures in the (admittedly mostly north European) military art I’m familiar with, which makes me curious.