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Black Africans in Hohenstaufen Iconography

Paul H. D. Kaplan
Gesta
Vol. 26, No. 1 (1987), pp. 29-36
DOI: 10.2307/767077
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/767077
Page Count: 8
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Black Africans in Hohenstaufen Iconography
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Abstract

In the late 12th century positive images of black Africans began to increase in Western art. This phenomenon was encouraged by a developing interest in blacks on the part of the Hohenstaufen emperors Henry VI and Frederick II. Henry's conquest of Sicily in the 1190s brought a number of black Moslems under his rule, and miniatures from the period record this fact. In the 1220s his son Frederick established an Islamic colony which included a number of blacks at Lucera in Apulia, and at least two sculptures can be associated with these Africans. One is a capital depicting a remarkably naturalistic black as well as other varied ethnic types. The second work is evidently a portrait of Johannes Maurus, a black who was Frederick's chamberlain. The two blacks who appear in the Adoration of the Magi on Nicola Pisano's Siena pulpit are undoubtedly based on African retainers at the Hohenstaufen court. Even after the fall of the Hohenstaufen, artists made repeated references to the family's fondness for black people in art and in life.

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