Master of the Antiphonar of Padua; The Divine Comedy
f. 117r: A Griffin pulling a triumphal chariot with the Three Graces, four Virtues and Luke and Paul.
Italy (c. 1330-40)
Illuminated Manuscript, 390 x 260 mm.
Isn’t this is taking the term “person of colour” a little literally? During the procession in Dante’s Inferno, he sees a chariot pulled by a griffin with three very peculiar women inside: one snow-white, one emerald green, and one fire-red. [x] [x] [x] He also describes four dancing women in the chariot beside them.
I mean, I’m not saying it’s not interesting. This is a really cool piece of art, and you can never have enough illuminated manuscripts. Or Dante, for that matter. And I suppose green people everywhere appreciate the representation…
Yes, and I’m aware of this. And honestly I really want to be rude to you because of the totally unnecessary and baiting last sentence, but instead I’m just going to loudly ignore it. Mostly I’m just fed up with people who make assumptions that I’m just being ridiculous, and that I don’t have fairly sound reasons for posting what I post. They’re relevant, they have precedent, and they start discussion.
Were you aware that varying skin tones were often represented with bright blue, purple, or green skin in Medieval art? There are several reasons for this and I’m gonna talk about them.
One example is because of the limitations of certain forms of media. This woman is obviously meant to be Black, but there was no existing glaze to represent dark brown or Black skin in the time and place it was created. So she is blue:
Stained glass windows often used green, blue, or purple glass to demonstrate different skin colors, because it was symbolically significant, and because it was very difficult to render a realistic and clear brown glass color for skin and still have facial features be clear to the viewers. It’s also possible they just liked the effect, as well.
Examples include the Queen of Sheba before Solomon and her attendant in this German Stained Glass Window (1270):
For comparison, you can see the difficulty they had with brown glass becoming muddled in this German work from c. 1290:
They’d improved this a great deal by 1500:
In Illuminated Manuscripts, people of color, including people intended to be Black, were colored blue for a few reasons. This is the title illustration for a Bohemian manuscript’s Song of Solomon, for “I am Black, but/and beautiful”:
Here’s some more from art historian Esther Schruder or representation of elevated African figures painted with blue skin:
This little book of hours comprising 253 folios measures approximately five by seven centimetres. Fourteen of these folios are decorated with full page miniatures and margin decorations, the latter in Ghent-Bruges style. A striking feature of this illumination, in addition to its small format, is the fact that the Ethiopian King is not depicted here as black or brown but as blue.
This colour is found in representations of black people in a number of manuscripts: a splendidly elegant blue King or Magus can be seen, for example, in the Flemish book of hours from circa 1480 –1489 in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York (MS M. 234 fol. 083v), while a miniaturist working on the Bijbel van Evert van Soudenbalch in Utrecht around 1465 painted a blue Ethiopian Chamberlain in a scene relating to The Baptism of the Chamberlain (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek). The latter figure is probably the first Ethiopian dignitary from the Bible to be represented in the Netherlands.
Not all the dark-skinned figures in the Vienna manuscript were given a blue hue, however: the dark bride kissed by King Solomon in the Old Testament book Song of Songs, for example, is depicted by the miniaturist with a brown skin.
The artists chose to use blue for the Kings and Chamberlains.
Verses in the exceedingly popular poem Cursor Mundi may well have contributed to the emergence of blue Kings and blue Chamberlains, for the series of legends surrounding the Holy Cross in this early fourteenth-century work includes the story of King David’s conversion of four Saracens who are described ‘as black and blue as lead’.
Hopefully people can read this and see what I mean when I talk about evidence, and interpretations. Is any of this for sure and certain 100% Absolute Truth? OF COURSE NOT. That’s the thing about Medieval European art…so much of it is symbolic and its symbolism can totally override any sense of representational images when it comes to human or humanoid figures.
You speculate, you form questions, you compare, you research, you revise, revisit, and reformulate, and you present your research.
Honestly there are very few things in life that *don’t* seem absurd when you reduce their context and appearance to an absurd degree.