Friday, 14 February 2014

A Site Worth Seeing: People of Color in European Art History Catherine Johnson

Drawing by Durer 

Valentine's day? Pah! Today I write a love letter to the Internet, boon to writers and sad teens world wide. I really don't know what I'd do without it all that random clicking to find out where and when, the ability to swoop through antique maps of cities far far away, the chance to see what people wore and how long it might take to travel by stagecoach from Valenciennes to Paris. What did one do before the internet? Were writers dependent on big important libraries? What if you didn't live in a big city or even if you did felt too intimidated by 'proper academics' to go in?

Those of us with computers and internet access are all so very very lucky.

So bearing in mind that we all have go to websites, ones we like - mine include several high end vintage clothes dealers that I scroll through and drool over as well as a lovely fly through map of 18th century Paris - I thought I would share this one, a fabulous site that was initially simply a history of people of colour in Europe through art. I think it's much more than a repository of interesting pictures from collections of art and illuminated manuscripts, for me it's much more visceral; it's a kind of personal endorsement that says you know what, people like you have been here forever, you belong just as much as anyone else. And if that isn't a truly loving thought for Valentine's day then I don't know what it is...

This is the address,  go and have a look and let us know your favourite sites too...

A Mulatto Gentleman c1800 Fabre


  1. Fantastic, and thank you, Catherine! I am currently trying to write a black servant in the 1730s and such visual reference is, as of course you know, amazingly useful. I had read about the characterful Owen McSwiny years ago and but had completely forgotten about him until I saw this site. I love the painting of 'Saint Elesbaan Having Slaughtered Evil'. May we all look so smug and righteous when we slaughter evil and give it an ablative absolute in the title.

  2. Thanks Michelle, and if your servant is in Britain get a copy of Staying Power by peter Fryer, it has brilliant little bios of notable Black britons including 18th servants like George Edward Doney in Cassiobury park and Jon Ystumllyn in north wales, both who were probably bought here as pages and who succeeded.

  3. Mine's a Jamaican boy who ends up in Venice as the servant of the British Resident. Thank you for the tip. Have found a couple of good books in the London Library too. My sugar slave boy doesn't succeed, unfortunately.

  4. Seconding recommendation of Staying Power! Also Florian Shyllon’s ‘Black People in Britain 1555 - 1833'

    I also spent some days going through the Old Bailey archives for black voices and have about 70 pages of records from 18th century if anyone wants them. Contemporary prints also have a lot of POC faces too if you look for them.

  5. I love the Durer drawing. Do you know who she is?

  6. Wish I did Ann, and yes Imogen Old Bailey records are brilliant.