Anonymous French Artist (formerly att. Luca della Robia)

Portrait Bust

France (1400-1600)

Glazed polychromed faïence, 48 cm.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University


Apparently, there’s a fair amount of confusion over the dating of this image, but It’s definitely pre-1600s. did a brief article on this amazing portrait bust:

As early as the 15th century, black people were imported from Africa to Europe. Their fate there was considerably different from that of the multitudes of slaves brought to the New World to perform agricultural labor. Often, blacks in Europe were at least nominally free and were considered to be servants rather than slaves.

The woman represented in the bust here is usually described as a servant. In this case her elegant attire would distinguish her as a member of an aristocratic Italian household. Many servants possessed skills and talents very valuable to their employers. This woman could have served as a cook or as an attendant to the lady of the household. Her blue skin has a technical explanation, since the color black could not be rendered in glazed terra-cotta.

Oh man, I just love this one! Look at that expressive face, captured in such an uncommon medium. Between her expressive eyes and the set of her cheeks and mouth, I feel like I can imagine not only how this woman would have looked, but also her personality…

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