Barbouillage: Twenty Seventeenth-Century Poems on an Enslaved Black Woman

Anna Kłosowska

[print edition page number: 289]
As Noémie Ndiaye and Mame-Fatou Niang have long insisted, the French term barbouillage must be used in the French context instead of blackface, because using an English term may suggest it is a foreign phenomenon or de-emphasize the negative impact of blackface: a foreign borrowing functions as a euphemism.[1] To start a class discussion on this topic, we might begin with the current discussions of barbouillage in the mainstream Francophone and Anglophone media. We might open with the filmed panel on barbouillage with the participation of Niang and Norman Ajari that includes a handful of infamous examples — Justin Trudeau as Aladdin; the use of caricature in the painting by Hervé Di Rosa, Abolition of Slavery, in the French National Assembly; the barbouillage staging of the classical Greek tragedy The Supplicants; the often-defaced late 1800s advertisement in Paris, now at the Musée Carnavalet/Musée de l’histoire de Paris.[2] An introduction to the class might also include information about the French National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery and recent publications by Niang and Maboula Soumahoro.[3]

Early modern examples in this chapter can help students articulate the connections between cultural phenomena that are often presented separately, which causes the throughline of racism to be buried: 1600s [290] barbouillage, formalist Baroque poetry, visual representations that incorporate hierarchies of power, and participation in slave trade — as well as the shockingly literal and direct reprisal of these traditions in the 1800s by Romantic authors such as Théophile Gautier and the Symbolists such as Charles Baudelaire.[4]

Thanks to that step back into the early modern period, the students are able to comprehend that contemporary barbouillage has a long history that has been occluded. A contributing factor is the periodization of the study of race and slavery, rooted in specific geographies, religions and chronologies. Scholars are often reluctant to counter the prevailing narrative that dates the emergence of modern racism linked to global slavery and colonization to the Enlightenment, but notable new studies mark the beginning of a new period of synthesis in the study of early modern race as well as slavery. Recently, Ndiaye and other scholars have shown that early modern culture is characterized by the rise of “skin color as a shorthand for racialized thinking.”

By highlighting both the links and the differences between the 1600s, 1800s and the present, students are better able to understand and articulate the harmful effects of barbouillage in present-day France. The early modern culture classroom becomes a laboratory where students discuss representation and its opposite — cultural appropriation — and chart the path to mutual respect and full participation in cultural productions.

Two Types of Barbouillage — Mythologization and Blackface; Polysemy of More (Moor)

There are two related strands of barbouillage in the sense of fictional blackness written by white authors who represent and articulate the dominant racist culture in the 1600s in France. The first is barbouillage in court ballet, theater, and visual arts that consists of the representation of racialized people in supporting or comical roles. The second is the [291] representation of enslaved and racialized people as leading, tragic or heroic fictional characters and allegorical or mythological figures. As I argue, both of these two very different modes of fictional representation are barbouillage, because they do the same cultural work: to intentionally delete on stage and in fiction the violence and horror of the French slave trade and plantation economy. Therefore, I will call both of them barbouillage throughout this essay.

First, I look to mythologization: in literature and the arts in Paris during the decades leading to the legalization of slavery by the French in the Antilles (1642), warfare, colonization, and slavery were staged in aestheticized, fantastical terms. Violence was presented as symbolic, not real; death as noble, not final; disappointed love as the worst thing that could happen, rather than captivity, torture, and genocide. Examples of that fantastical staging culminate in late 1600s palace décor that glorifies colonization, for example in Versailles from the 1670s to the 1680s: the Allegory of Africa in the Salon d’Apollon (c. 1675), Different African Nations in the Escalier d’Ambassadeurs (1674–1679).[5] The point of these allegorical visual representations was to imagine and project French and aristocratic superiority, often in terms of literal, positional superiority: the allegory of Africa as one of the four peripheral continents is subordinate to the central allegory of Europe in the Salon d’Apollon.

As for barbouillage in the sense of blackface as it is more traditionally understood, Parisian diarist and gossip Gédéon Tallemant de Réaux describes a portrait commissioned by his relation, Marie d’Harambure: “she was brown/a brunette, so she had the fantasy to have herself painted as an enslaved African woman [esclave more] with arms in chains.” [6] (The [292] Tallemant were among the more prominent bankers in Bordeaux, having acquired in 1611 the office of the treasurer of the house of Navarre.) The French More, like the English “Moor” is a polysemous term used to denote categories distinct today: African, Muslim, Black, Jew, “Oriental,” Turkish, racialized. For example, in political pamphlets against Philip II in the 1590s, he is described as “half-Moor, half-Jew, half-Saracen” who “treats the French as Tupinambas.”[7] Mores and their multiple avatars — Jew, Muslim, Egyptian, Indian, Turk, African, Indian, Native American — were stereotypical characters performed in court ballet and masquerade, an integral part of visual culture in 1600s Paris staged by amateur and professional actors, whose performances often echoed concrete political events.[8] The figure of the More also functions as a thought experiment, a formalism or tropism in poetic contexts.

With this background, a class might then analyze a group of poems written in 1600s Paris, extant in manuscript or published in various print collections from c. 1640–1675. These poems, which as I argue must also be considered as a type of barbouillage, construct the fictional lyric portrait of a beautiful enslaved Black woman, belle noire. They are French adaptations of a group of “Dark Love” sonnets by Giambattista Marino including the notorious Bella Schiava (Beautiful Enslaved Woman). These 1600s French poems were first collected in an anthology under the title L’Amour noir (Dark/Black Love) by Albert-Marie Schmidt in 1959.[9] As most scholars of Marinist poetry, Schmidt was interested in Marino’s formalism and his Baroque aesthetics of amori notturni, nocturnal landscapes in the [293] love lyric tradition: “black Suns, merciful Night … dark beauties, jade and ebony, the Bohemian, the African, androgyny, succubi.”[10]

Belle noire poems use the recursive logic and paradoxical juxtapositions typical of Baroque and Mannerist poetry: the enslaved Black woman in turn enslaves her white male captor, the slave owner, who is now a slave to passion. The ivory-bright feminine beauty idealized in Petrarchism becomes subordinate to coal-black; coal-black shines brighter than the sun or gold. As mentioned above, these poems are adaptations of a cycle by Marino, including Bella Schiava and poems on the widow, the beggar, the Egyptian or the Romani fortune teller.

This group of poems, perhaps created as part of a salon challenge or concorso, as it often happened when we see a number of poems on one theme, consists of at least twenty poems by some fourteen men and women; the number is not precise because some poems are anonymous. The named authors include such leading figures as the playwright Paul Scarron; the poet, soldier, and courtier Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant and the brother of the celebrated novelist Madeleine de Scudéry, Georges.[11] [294]

Links to the Slave Trade

These poems serve as sociohistorical documents that help students understand the personal connections between literature and early modern racial exploitation. Some of these writers, visual artists, performers, and patrons were directly involved in the slave trade, including Scarron’s wife, Françoise d’Aubigné, who later became Mme de Maintenon and wife to Louis XIV. Scarron sold his church bénéfice — as I understand, his marriage necessitated this, as it invalidated his minor orders, the rank in the Church ministry required to collect his income — and invested in the Compagnie des Indes. D’Aubigné married Scarron, three times her age (she was a teenager) because she was destitute. She nearly died crossing the Atlantic and lived briefly in the Antilles as a child, where her parents purchased enslaved people and made a failed attempt to make a fortune on a plantation. Her mother later sold these enslaved men and women to pay for her and her two children’s return passage to France, following the father.

Saint-Amant also had a first-hand knowledge of slave trade and plantation economy. Under Richelieu, nobles did not compromise their title and its tax-exempt status by participating in trade if the trade was part of the colonial compagnies. Saint-Amant’s brother was a sailor who died in the Red Sea, and Saint-Amant himself participated in more than one military colonial expedition. Financed by the Compagnie du Sénégal, he sailed from Lisbon in January 1626, via the Canary Islands along the coast [295] of Africa, part of a military expedition that founded Saint-Louis in Senegal. Saint-Amant may have also participated in the expedition to the Antilles, to Saint-Christophe for eight months in 1629 with François de Rotondy, Sieur de Cahuzac/Cussac. He describes the Canary Islands in a handful of poems, and mentions his travels in Africa, the Canaries and America (Saint-Georges) in the preface to the collection of poems published in 1629. Some extant printings of this volume have a frontispiece framed by two palm trees, indicating that the Canaries theme was particularly worth foregrounding and resonated with the public.[12]

Race and Slavery in 1600s Salons, Académie, Court Ballet, and Theater

Barbouillage was not limited to these Marinist poems and authors in the 1600s — far from it. The legitimacy and function of slavery was discussed in salons: records show a debate on the topic in 1633 at the Académie Renaudot, soon to be institutionalized as the state-sponsored French Academy.[13] Plays and masquerades were performed at court and in the city, and the court and royal family regularly danced in barbouillage. Under Louis XIII, the ballet La Douairière de Billebahaut (The Dowager of Bilbao, 1626), including groups of dancers in costumes and barbouillage representing different sovereign nations paying homage to France, was performed at the Louvre and later for the Paris Parliament. Following the [296] hiatus of the Fronde, two ballets, le Ballet de la Nuit (1653) and Noces de Pélée et Thétis (1654) revived the ballet des nations tradition.[14]

In the Douairière (1626), Gaston d’Orléans, Louis XIII’s brother, danced as an African. The libretto specifies: “Monsieur representant un Afriquain“ (“The King’s Brother, playing an African“), and his lines read: “do not disdain me because I am a Moor,/ Because like the son of Aurora,/ Although my complexion is black, I am from the Blood of Gods/ My race is adored at both ends of the Earth.”[15] Among the best known barbouillage performances linked with the future Louis XIV is the Italian La finta pazza (The Fake Madwoman), which he watched as a six-year-old (December 14, 1645).[16] In his own first public performance as an adolescent, in Noces de Thétis et Pélée (1654) Louis danced in barbouillage, feathers, and a slave collar as the Indien or académiste de Chiron (a student of the centaur Chiron), one of six costume changes also including Apollo, a dryad, a courtier, and an allegory of War. Noces was so popular that it was performed three times a week for more than a month and the last two performances were open to a popular audience.[17] The stage designer of the Noces was Giacomo Torelli, famous for his machines, special effects, and dramatic scene changes; La finta pazza (1645) was his Paris début and a vast success, reprising his Venice designs. In turn, a generation after Noces (1654) when the ballet Le triomphe de l’amour (1681,1682) was performed to celebrate his eldest son’s marriage, Louis was the spectator and the young aristocrats danced in barbouillage, including his eldest son in the traditional mythological costume of Indien following Bacchus. The classical mythology [297] and iconography of Dionysus includes the conquest of India and the battle scenes with Indians as well as triumphal processions including Indians, lions, elephants and camels, which served in the 1600s as one of the prominent visual and literary sources of Baroque representations of colonization. The aristocrats danced alongside professional performers.[18]

Barbouillage and costumed representations of racialized stereotypes — so-called “ballets of the nations” — are a constant in 1500s–1600s triumphal entries and court ballets. Masquerades including barbouillage were usually danced every January at court and reprised after Easter in the city.[19] The titles speak for themselves. Even a few titles listed here in the body of the chapter will enable the students to appreciate the frequency and insistence with which barbouillage appears in the mainstream culture of the 1600s Paris. These titles include: 1600–1601, [298] Ballet des Turcs, Ballet des Maures Nègres, Ballet des princes de la Chine, Ballet des princesses des îles, 1604 Ballet des Janissaires, 1607 Ballet des Maures adorant le Soleil, Ballet des blancs et des noirs, Le Maistre de l’academie d’Hyrlande (Ireland), 1608 Ballet de Maître Guillaume including the figures of Moor, Tartar, Indian, Englishman, and Spaniard, 1609 Ballet des Maures, Ballet des Juifs, Ballet des Sauvages, Ballet de la Reine including Americans, 1610 Ballet de Monseigneur le duc de Vendôme including the description of the “black mask, silver eyebrows and moustache,”[20] c. 1620 Coffin’s Ballet des Indiens, 1626 Douairière de Billebahaut, which left the record including Daniel Rebel’s watercolor album of costume designs for Ballet des nations. 1645, La finta pazza, 1654 Noces de Pelée et de Thétis, 1658 Ballet d’Alcidiane with Louis in barbouillage as Maure in the final entry chaconne des Maures. The 1662 Carousel is well documented by Henri de Gissey’s printed designs and Perrault’s captions, including men in barbouillage (“Moors”) and enslaved men.[21] We could multiply the examples.[22]

Not only court ballet but also theater, more accessible to the bourgeois, staged enslaved and racialized characters. Comédiens italiens — Francesco and Isabella Andreini, and then their son Giovanbattista and his wife, Virginia Ramponi, often performed in Paris, including in 1621–1623, and six of their plays were printed there. The theatrical and print success of Giovanbattista Andreini’s Lo schiavetto (1612, 1620) whose Venetian 1620 frontispiece portrays the young enslaved Black boy — in reality, the noble [299] heroine in barbouillage played by his wife Virginia Ramponi, who uses that disguise to follow her lover — undoubtedly also helped the popularity of different versions of Andromeda (on Andromeda, see below, figure 2) in the early decades of the 1600s.[23] Claude de l’Estoile (1597–1652), who collaborated on the libretto of the 1626 ballet La Douairière de Billebahaut, also wrote the tragicomedy La belle esclave (Beautiful Enslaved Woman). Printed in 1643, it was regularly performed from 1642 to 1669, testifying to its popularity. An Andromède délivrée dates to 1624.[24] A significant number of French plays performed in Paris in the 1600s have racially marked characters, including the most famous plays by Alexandre de Hardy (Belle Egyptienne, 1628), Pierre Corneille (Medea and Cid, 1635, 1637; Andromeda 1650–1660s and later; Titus and Bérénice, 1670), Molière (Bourgeois gentilhomme, 1670), and Jean Racine (Bérénice, Bajazet and Mithridate, 1670, 1672, 1673), to mention only the best known. Two of the poets we will mention below, Tristan l’Hermite and Georges de Scudéry, also authored plays and novels that foreground the themes of slavery and race.

Barbouillage in the Visual Arts: Sappho’s Portrait in Ovid’s Heroides and Representations of Andromeda

Because of limited space, I will not discuss here the frequent inclusion of the representations of Black men, women, and children in French portraits and art collections in the 1600s, especially by patrons and sitters with direct links to slave trade. Instead, I will limit myself to mythology. In visual arts, representations of Black men and women as allegorical or mythological figures existed and gained some prominence in public and private spaces in the 1600s. Raised on Ovid, French literary men and women would be automatically reminded of Black Sappho and Black Andromeda (see explanation below) by Marino’s poem and its French [300] adaptations. In parallel with the literary tradition, the visual representations — mythological and allegorical portraits of Black men and women, especially including Sappho, Andromeda, and Memnon — were circulated by popular engravings, printed in large quantities and cheaply bought to decorate the walls of shops and rooms. [301]


An engraving of Black Sappho holding a lute. She is dressed in fine 17th century clothing including an intricate hat and a string of pearls.
Figure 1. Black Sappho, a mainstream French print, c. 1620. Jean I Le Blond (1590/94–1680), part of a series of women’s portraits based on drawings by Abraham Bosse.

For example, a portrait of Sappho printed in the 1620s, part of a series of “worthy women” portraits, uses as her identification not only her name written on the lute, the instrument that she is traditionally credited with having perfected, but also, as I argue, visual and especially textual clues to her appearance, which traditionally includes a reference to her dark beauty. In Ovid, the wording of the Sappho epistle presupposes a hierarchy of female beauty where the appeal of dark beauty is not self-evident, it has to be argued and proven by a reference to a famous precedent: Perseus’s love-at-first-sight for Andromeda. That is the section of Ovid’s poem cited on the print, where Sappho compares herself to an irresistibly attractive Black figure, Andromeda. The figure in the print has the fashionable, tightly curled, almost spherical, voluminous hairstyle, suggesting that the image may date to the 1620s. I thank Suzanne Karr Schmidt for brilliantly pointing out a near-contemporary print in which, in a mise en abyme,  a print from the Sappho series is represented hanging on the wall of a Paris shoe shop, giving us both the terminus ante quem and an idea of the popular distribution of the series. Although I am not an expert, I think that two elements of Sappho’s clothing might be a shorthand for “Turkish” style: first, the deeply cut lambrequins of the patterned overgarment, edged in gumball-sized pearls. Second, the long, fringed shawls used as a scarf and a belt, which appear to float around Sappho’s upper and lower body. Another shawl is woven into her coiffure, its two-fringed, patterned ends resting on her shoulders and upper torso in a liquid drape. These two elements, lambrequins and decorative scarves, appear repeatedly throughout the 1600s in prints that portray women dancers in barbouillage as allegories for India, America, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire.

Sappho is looking directly into our eyes, with a tiny smile: she seems amused with us. A delicate twist to her head and torso creates an illusion of life. With one arm she cradles her lyre, her hand framing her name. Her other arm points down. Her elegantly bent wrist and languid port-de-bras look ballet-like. She holds up her scarf, with her index finger pointing to the well-known lines of Ovid’s Heroides 15 where Sappho describes herself as brown — brown like Black Andromeda. The French text reads:

My brown skin color displeases you — a pathetic excuse:
Andromeda was black, and Perseus loved her. [302]
Alas, to see a volcano, no need to go to Sicily:
Come, see it in my heart, where your eyes set it ablaze.

Created about the same time as the Sappho print, an iconic image of Black Memnon and Black Andromeda, part of a series of mythological scenes no longer extant, decorated the cabinet of Jacques Favereau, one of Paris’s elite literary figures.[25] [303]


Engraving showing Perseus' rescue of Andromeda. Andromeda is depicted as a Black woman in chains, who is untied by an angel while Perseus slays a sea creature.
Figure 2. Black Andromeda, from Marolles’s Temple des Muses, fifteen printings from 1655 to the 1720s.

While the oil-on-canvas originals were only known to those admitted to Favereau’s salon, a series of engravings based on them was widely published as a small album, Temple des Muses. Facing each tableau was a page of French commentary by Michel de Marolles, the well-known author who prolifically published both pious texts and translations of canonical school texts from Latin, and a notable print collector. Marolles’s collection was later purchased by Colbert and formed one of the core collections of the royal Cabinet. Marolles’s title, Temple des Muses, echoes another famous Musaeum–that is, a temple of the Muses–which gave its name to our ubiquitous public institutions: Paolo Giovio’s portraits gallery in his villa on the lake Como begun in 1512 and finished in 1540s, copied by the duke Cosimo I de’ Medici for his Uffizi Gallery, with Giovio’s descriptions, known as Elogia, widely circulating in print since 1546–1551. Portrait galleries in aristocratic houses throughout Europe were conceived on the scheme of Giovio’s museum, creating patterns of portraiture for famous historical and contemporary figures as well as including family portraits. A hundred years after Giovio, published in Paris in 1655, Marolles’s Temple, like Giovio’s portraits, circulated in print for a century, and scholars often assume that both his print collection and his Temple served as a visual reference for decorators and artists. It was reprinted in French a dozen of times, and published in English in Antwerp at least three times, as late as the end of the 1740s.[26]

The portrayal of Black Andromeda preoccupied Parisians in the 1600s. Corneille includes it in the “Argument” of Andromeda, where he justifies his departures from Ovid. He writes about the play’s location:

[Ovid] only says that Cepheus [the father of Andromeda] reigned in Ethiopia, and he does not indicate in what climate. The modern topography of these parts is not very well known, and even less in Cepheus’s time. Suffice it to say that Cepheus had to be a ruler of some coastal land, that the capital was on the coast, and that his people were white, although Ethiopian. It’s not that the blackest [304] Moors [Mores] don’t have beauties, after their fashion, but it’s not likely that Perseus — a Greek born in Argos — would fall in love with Andromeda if she were of their color [si elle eust esté de leur teint]. I have the opinion of all the painters on my side, and above all — the authority of the great Heliodorus [author of Aethiopica] who specifically links the whiteness of the divine Chariclea to a representation of Andromeda.[27]

In other words, there were two traditions for the representation of Andromeda. Sappho of our print justifies her loveliness by comparing herself to Black Andromeda, but the character of Chariclea in the widely read and admired Aethiopica “proves” that Andromeda was white. To understand Corneille here it is necessary to mention that skin color is the pretext to the abandonment-and-recognition plot of Aethiopica: Chariclea’s pregant mother supposedly looked at a print of Andromeda, so that Chariclea was born white, instead of Black like her father; of his coloring, only a spot remained, sufficient to effect a recognition and reunite them in the end.

The topic of Andromeda’s appearance is discussed by the prolific Marolles in print at least twice, in 1655 and 1661. In the 1655 edition of the Temple des Muses, Marolles’s commentary is explicit: he is against representing Andromeda as Black, a direct critique of the image of Black [305] Andromeda on the facing page of the book, our Figure 2. But six years later (1661), in the notes to his translation of Ovid’s Heroides 15, “Sappho to Phaon,” Marolles takes the opportunity to say in print that his opinion has evolved: “Andromeda daughter of Cepheus for being brown: Given she was Ethiopian … What I wrote about Andromeda regarding the color of her skin [la couleur de son teint], in my Livre des Tableaux des Muses, needs some correction.”[28]

Barbouillage in Marino and his Parisian Epigones: A Closer Look

With this context in mind, a class might now turn to the close reading of Marino’s sonnet Bella schiava and its French adaptations. The belle noire tradition predates Marino, but the French 1600s versions are undoubtedly linked to his Paris sojourn.[29] Marino was considered as Italy’s most important poet at the time. Exiled at the end of a tumultuous career marked by three incarcerations for sex with men and manslaughter, he lived in Paris from 1615 to 1623 on a royal French pension. It was in Paris that he published and dedicated to Louis XIII his masterpiece, L’Adone, the final version of a much-revised narrative poem on the loves and feats of Venus and Adonis. L’Adone’s success enabled him to return to Italy, where he died in 1625. His first claim to fame was the collection of poems known as La lira — two volumes of Le Rime published in 1602, becoming La lira in 1608, expanded in 1614. Our text, Bella schiava figures in the section “Love Sonnets.”

Bella schiava was so common that, in another of Marino’s pastorals, La bruna pastorella, Marino’s own fictional Alpine shepherds adapt it. Adjacent to but different from the debasing, comic portrayals of racially marked characters, or the baroque tradition of the poem of praise of an [306] ugly woman, stanze in lode della donna brutta, where “ugly” often means old, racialized, disabled, or poor, belle noire texts provide another version of fictional exploitation of racialized, enslaved women protagonists, one written in the noble, lyric love poetry register:

You are black but beautiful, o pretty marvel of nature
among the beauties of love;
the dawn next to you is dusky, ivory is lost and shadowed
next to your ebony
When or where, in our world or among the ancients,
was ever seen such a brilliant — or felt such a pure —
light come from the dark ink
or such a glow emerge from cinders?
I am the slave of her who is my slave
Brown locks are a lock around my heart,
which can never be untied by a white hand.
Even if you burn your hardest, o Sun,
You will only come short, because a Sun is born
a Sun that, in her beautiful face
holds the Night; the Day shines in her eyes.[30]

A related group of Parisian poems on the “dark lady” — a beggar, a widow, or a “Beautiful Egyptian” — is similarly fictionalized. As noted by Myriam Dufour-Maître, the “dark lady” sells fortunes, but she is more properly on sale herself, as in the remarkable poem by Georges de Scudéry, “Beautiful Egyptian” (1649): [307]

Somber Divinity, whose black splendor
Shines with obscure fires which can burn everything down,
Snow has nothing equal to you,
And today, Ebony wins over Ivory.

From your obscurity comes the splendor of your glory;
And I see in your eyes of which I dare not speak;
An African Cupid who is about to fly,
And hopes to win with an Ebony Bow.

Sorceress without Demons, who predicts the future:
Who entertains us looking at our hands,
And who charms our senses with an amiable imposture:

You don’t seem very practiced in the art of guessing the future,
But without further delay, happily,
Somber Divinity, you can give it to us.[31]

The poem by Scudéry exemplifies two main tendencies of Marinist poetry: its Petrarchism and concettismo — the intention to astonish, expressed in Marino’s devise: E del poeta il fin la meraviglia, the poet’s aim is the marvelous. The enslaved woman “enslaves” the master; the Black beauty is so luminous that she shames the sun.

As Dufour-Maître shows, Cervantes’s 1613 novella Preciosa is the avatar of this figure as well as of the French préciosité tradition. This connection [308] to barbouillage is important, because préciosité and the women salonières — the Précieuses — are a significant part of the canonical narrative of the 1600s, especially of proto-feminism. The Précieuses are such an important cultural commonplace that they are proverbial at the time, caricatured by Molière in Précieuses ridicules and Femmes savantes. Dufour-Maître’s contribution highlights the racialization at the very heart of the canon — a racialization that is an integral part and the origin of a mainstream cultural reference, but that was completely elided before her important work brought it to the light once again.

The theme of Précieuse in this racialized barbouillage context was adapted in lyric poetic tradition by Tristan l’Hermite (Belle gueuse, 1648), Urbain Chevreau (Belle gueuse, 1648), Claude de Malleville (Belle Gueuse and an additional two sonnets and madrigal, 1649). It, too, was infamously reprised by the Romantics and, later, Baudelaire (A une mendiante rousse).

The earliest published (1641) of the numerous French adaptations of Marino’s Bella schiava is a close translation by Tristan l’Hermite:

The Beautiful Enslaved Moor Woman: A Sonnet
Beautiful Marvel of Nature, it is true that your face
Is black to the last degree, but perfectly beautiful;
And the polished Ebony that serves as your ornament
Wins over the whitest ivory.

O divine marvel, unknown in our age!
That a shadowed object may shine so brightly,
And that an extinguished coal is burning more lively
Than the ones that keep producing flames!

Between these black hands I put my freedom;
I, who was invincible to every other Beauty,
A Moor sets me aflame, a Slave subdues me.

But, o Sun, hide, you who come from these parts [i.e., the Orient]
From which this Star has come, who wears — shame on you, [309] [i.e., she shines brighter]
Night on her face, and daylight in her eyes. [32]

Tristan l’Hermite paraphrases Marino (“I put my freedom in her black hands”), where Marino speaks of “brown fetters around the heart, that will never be untied by a white hand” (porto di bruno lacio il core intorno,/ che per candida man non fia mai sciolto). This play on fetters, locks, and heart is older than Marino: a Petrarchan reference that, in English, is a pun on locks of hair that become locks or chains that bind the lover.[33]

An anonymous translation in a manuscript in the BnF (ms fr 20605) is even closer to Marino’s original than Tristan l’Hermite. The manuscript contains a note that this version was by a woman (une dame) and that it was corrected (réformé) by no less than Paul Scarron — one is tempted to imagine that the dame might have been Françoise d’Aubigné, the future Madame de Maintenon:

I am the captive of my captive, following her, fettered
With black gold, which will never be unfettered
By a white hand, so strong is her spirit.[34] [310]

The Petrarchism of this concetto is inescapable: already in Petrarch, the locks (hair)/locks (fetters) are connected to slavery, Africa, and racialization, via Petrarch’s source in Ovid’s version of the myth of Andromeda. In the Triumph of Love, Petrarch mentions the Ovidian Black Sappho and Andromeda:

Perseus was one; and I want to know how
Andromeda was pleasing to him in Ethiopia,
The brown maiden, with the beautiful eyes and hair. (Petrarch, Triumph of Love).

As we discussed above (figure 1), Ovid’s Sappho (Heroides, Epist. 15 “Sappho to Phaon”) compares herself to the dark (fusca) Andromeda:

If I am not fair, what of it? Perseus loved the Cepheian
Dark Andromeda, who was the color of her country.[35]

As we already mentioned, the Parisian authors discussed in this chapter knew each other. For example, as the former preceptor to Louise-Marie de Gonzague-Nevers (1611–1667), twice the queen of Poland, Marolles secured from her a pension for Saint-Amant (1645–1659), one of the Parisian translators of Marino’s Bella schiava. As does Marolles in the Temple and his translation of the Heroides, Saint-Amant also discusses the color of Andromeda’s skin in his poem Andromeda, dedicated to the same Gaston d’Orléans who danced in barbouillage to portray an African prince in the Douairière — performed in 1626, the year when Saint-Amant sailed for Senegal in an armed expedition financed by the Compagnie du Sénégal. Saint-Amant cites the climate theory of race only to say how spectacularly [311] Andromeda contradicts it. Perseus almost falls off his flying mount upon first seeing her:

Besides, was it believable
And could one conceive
That in such a frightening climate
Anything pleasant can be seen?
Or that, in the middle of Africa,
Where the heat that prickles it
Blackens even the blood,
Among the dark visages
Where bodies resemble shadows
Can be found one so white?[36]

It is unbelievable that:

one whose extreme beauties
would captivate Gods themselves
Should now be in chains.[37]

In this view of the world, blackness, like being enslaved, is unbelievable in one so white, and both blackness and slavery are characteristic of the climate of Africa. Or, in other words, if you are in Africa and white, you are not enslaved, but if you are Black and out of Africa, you can be. There is a conceptual slippage here characteristic of the racialization and hierarchy [312] that we may recognize as Enlightenment or modern, at work in the premodern period: from the hot climate of Africa to being Black and enslaved, and from whiteness, to beauty, to the impossibility of being enslaved.

Saint-Amant’s poem, published posthumously in 1661, was undoubtedly inspired by the long-lasting success of Pierre Corneille’s Andromède, staged from 1650–1660, with music by d’Assouci and set design by Torelli, some recycled from the opera Orfeo by Luigi Rossi (1647). Scheduled for 1648, Corneille’s Andromeda was delayed by the Fronde. Performed in 1650, with Madeleine Béjart as Andromeda and young Molière as Perseus, the play travelled from Paris to Brussels and Metz, and again to Paris in 1655 (with sets by Buffequin). It was adapted a generation later, in 1682, by Quinault with Lully’s music. Their Perseus was a lasting success: thirty-three consecutive performances, forty-five in toto. The parallel Comédie-Française’s 1682 revival of Corneille’s Andromeda with music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier included a real-life horse as Pegasus. The play was performed again in 1693. In Corneille, Andromeda is also white, a tradition inherited — as Corneille explicitly says, see citation above — from Heliodorus’s Aethiopica or Love adventures of Theagenes and Chariclea. As we mentioned, the novel was favored by seventeenth-century readers, famously including Jean Racine who (in his son’s recollection) memorized it as a schoolboy after repeated confiscation by his disapproving Jansenist pedagogues.[38] As we noted, Heliodorus’s character, Chariclea is born white to her Black parents, because her mother looked at a representation of a white Andromeda. Abandoned at birth, after countless adventures, Chariclea is recognized by her father thanks to the black mark on her skin.[39]  Translated numerous times, including into French by Amyot (1548) [313] and Montlyard (1623), Chariclea inspired numerous Parisian playwrights, including Alexandre Hardy, whose play appeared in print in 1623 and 1628: a lasting success. [40]

As Kim F. Hall, Dennis Britton, Kimberly Coles, and Anna Wainwright have shown, the references to hair as links, nets, chains or ties that capture the lover — depending on the color of the hair, brown or gold links — are frequent in Petrarchist poetry.[41] Suffice it to mention Pierre de Ronsard’s golden nets, retz d’or that seamlessly evoke the three meanings, the net cast by the god of Love that captures and binds his prey, the locks of the beloved’s hair, and precious metal, as well as the patronage of the maréchal de Retz and his wife’s, Catherine de Clermont’s salon:

From here to there, under my lady’s eyes
A golden net dropped from a hundred blooms.
Love cast the blond descent that fell, thoroughly curled,
In undulating waves to bind my soul. [ … ]
What could I do? the archer went so slow,
His fire so soft, his golden knots so mild, [314]
That in his nets I am forever lost. [ … ]
The fire burns, and the curly gold binds me.[42]

The transposition of the chains of slavery into chains of gold is an invention of the anonymous French poet-translator of Marino’s Bella schiava. Here, the bondage of the lyric subject is a sublimated slave chain, made of an exotic precious metal, “black gold” that mirrors the condition of the fictional Black beloved. The incongruously gold, fictional slave chains echo the fictional chains and slave collars in contemporary Parisian novels, barbouillage ballet performances, and aristocratic portraits of noblemen accompanied by children wearing silver and gold slave collars, frequent in the period 1670–1710, especially in the atelier of the major court portraitist Hyacinthe Rigaud and his disciples, but also at court and in Paris print shops. Gold slave chains and collars appear in Mme de Scudéry’s novel Almahide, or Slave Queen (in three parts and eight volumes, 1661–1663). The lover, Morayzel, enters sumptuously attired and “surrounded by twelve Slaves in long Pants of silver cloth, whose Cassocks and Hats were of cloth of gold, and Collars and Chains of massive gold.”[43] In the third part of the novel, the splendid funerary procession of Lucane includes twenty-four “Slaves in Mourning, with silver Collars and silver Chains on arms and legs.”[44]

Five of the dozen or so Parisian poets imitating Marino’s Bella schiava foreground the theme of captive captor: the enslaved woman is the master. These five are, in tentative chronologial order: Tristan L’Hermite (1641), the anonymous woman poet of BnF ms fr 20605, Claude de Malleville (before 1647, printed in 1649), Charles de Vion d’Alibray (1654), and the anonymous author of the poem printed La muse coquette (1665). In [315] this group, in all but d’Alibray, her black hair becomes fetters, sometimes brown, sometimes “black gold,” of which are fashioned the bonds that enslave her lover. As in the theatrical plots frequently used in the same period, where the enslaved Black adolescent is in fact a noblewoman in disguise searching for her lover, lyric poetry produces a fiction of slavery that erases the violence inflicted upon the enslaved. Similar to the barbouillage ballets danced by Louis XIII and Louis XIV, or the Masque of Blackness danced by the English queen, blackness and slavery are a costume: a wealthy aristocrat hides underneath, as in Marie de Harambure’s portrait “as an enslaved Moor woman, in chains”; Haramboure was exceptionally wealthy and the target of fortune hunters. The fictional female object of admiration in these poems and staged portraits is a simulacrum: in Paris, she performs the fictional version of the labor that violently enslaved women actually performed in the colonies.[45]

1800s Poets Borrowing 1600s Barbouillage

These poems can offer students — as well as scholars — an important connection between early modern French understandings of skin color as race and the more familiar racialized representations of later centuries.[46] 1600s barbouillage was often cited and adapted by the Romantics and Symbolists, imbued with the new racism of the 1800s. To understand the survival and continuity, as well as specificity and differences between 1600s barbouillage and the texts and images of 1800s Paris, students can examine, for instance, the literary portrait of the performer Jenny Colon (1837) by Gautier, part of his nauseatingly misogynist series of narrative portraits of contemporary women. Gautier reimagines Colon as a seventeenth-century print of a white noblewoman accompanied by a Black page by Abraham Bosse, the prolific 1600s draftsman. In other narrative [316] portraits from this series, Gautier constructs physical characteristics of race as a sign of gender and sexual difference. Gautier’s portrait of brown women as men or intersex people, as opposed to the “completely feminine” (his phrase) white blond women, envisions two parallel gender systems for brown versus white women: brown women and men are nonbinary, they “present much fewer differences” and can “easily pass” for male or female, while white women are part of a normalized binary and are “woman in every sense of the word,” “biblical Eve” (his words).[47] A generation later, Baudelaire infamously borrows from 1600s Marinist barbouillage in his erotic poems on the racialized (Chevelure), widowed (A une passante) and poor (A une mendiante rousse) female object of male gaze.

• • •

If Pierre Nora says that some places, texts and objects become the ground collective remembering and imagining, lieux de mémoire, we have shown in this chapter that national literary traditions also have ways to erase collective memory. After centuries of smoothing over the inconvenient and shameful truths, today Francophone cultures are reckoning with the past in the hope of building a more equal future. After a class or unit on these poems, students of the French Grand Siècle should be able to point to concrete examples of the links between premodern France’s cultural icons and slave trade. The Enlightenment, abolition of slavery, and modernity relegated these links to inaccessible recesses where the shameful and inconvenient cultural memories dwell. The Symbolists and twentieth-century formalists, and later their twentieth-century commentators, critics, high school and college manuals of French literature evacuated the political and historical content of Baroque and 1800s barbouillage, focusing instead on the formal aspects of the poetic tradition. Today, we excavate and foreground the history of racism, especially in the classroom. The French people I encountered uniformly believe that to acknowledge France’s part in the genocide of slave trade and colonization will prevent injustices and help heal in the present the wounds that begun in the past: that, as the historian Marc Ferro said, is the essential role of [317] history and pedagogy. It seems to me that the context presented here, of the racialized fictions in mainstream cultural productions of the 1600s and their reverberations in the 1800s, helps to more fully understand the racist gestures in the present and build a better future through education. The debates in French press of the previous years that, in a way that clearly appeared racist to American commentators, framed barbouillage in the arts as a question–“Freedom of expression or racism?”–seem to finally have found a firm answer, thanks to the repeated interventions of Black intellectuals and activists. After having studied how the racist barbouillage of the 1600s is reprised in the 1800s by formative French canonical authors including Baudelaire, it is my hope that the students will have no trouble deciding on their own.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bettella, Patrizia. The Ugly Woman: Transgressive Aesthetic Models in Italian Poetry from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Ndiaye, Noémie. Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022.

Niang, Mame-Fatou. Identités françaises: Banlieues, feminités et universalisme. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

Niang, Mame-Fatou and Julien Suaudeau, Universalisme. Paris: Anamosa, 2022.

  1. Noémie Ndiaye, Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022). Mame-Fatou Niang, Identités françaises: Banlieues, feminités et universalisme (Leiden: Brill, 2020).
  2. Michel Guerrin, “Barbouillage: appropriation culturelle, décolonialisme, liberté d’expression,” with the participation of Niang, Ajari, Laurent Dubreuil and Isabelle Barbéris, 5 October 2019,
  3. See Maboula Soumahoro, Black is the Journey, Africana the Name, trans. Kayama L. Glover (New York: Critical South, 2021), translation of Le Triangle et l’Hexagone: Réflexions sur une identité noire (Paris: La Découverte, 2021).
  4. On Baudelaire, see Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French (Duke University Press, 1999). On Gautier, see later in this chapter.
  5. The Allegory of Africa, salle Apollon, Versailles, c. 1675, by Charles de la Fosse (1636–1716), INV 1850 2252 C; Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), Different African Nations, 1674–1679, study for l’Escalier d’Ambassadeurs, Versailles; Cabinet du roi, atelier Le Brun; Louvre, dépt. Arts graphiques INV 27706, recto, Four parts of the world.
  6. “[P]ar vision, comme elle [Mme d’Harambure] estoit brune, elle [se] fit peindre en esclave more, qui avoit des fers aux mains,” Tallemant des Réaux, Historiettes, ed. A. Adam (Paris: Gallimard, 1961), vol. 2, 552. Cited by Myriam Dufour-Maître, “De ‘Précieuse, Egyptienne’ à ‘Mélisse, vieille Précieuse’: naissance d’un personnage, applications mondaines et exténuation d’un type (1628–1724),” Littératures classiques (issue: Le salon et la scène: comédie et mondanité au 17e siècle) 58:3 (2005), 115–30, at 117. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
  7. These pamphlets are cited in Marcel Paquot, “Les étrangers dans le ballet de cour au temps de Henri IV,” Revue du seizième siècle 16 (1929), 21–39, 24 n1; see also Marcel Paquot, “Les étrangers dans le ballet de cour,” Revue du seizième siècle 15 (1928), 43–55.
  8. Marcel Paquot, Les étrangers dans les divertissements de la cour, de Beaujoyeulx à Molière (1581–1673). Contribution à l’étude de l’opinion publique et du théâtre en France (Bruxelles: Palais des Académies, Liège: H. Vaillant-Carmanne, n.d.). More recently, Daniel Heartz, “Un ballet turc à la cour d’Henri II: les branles de Malte,” Baroque 5 (1972), n.p.
  9. See prior.
  10. Paulette Choné, L’Atelier des nuits: histoire et signification du nocturne dans l’art d’Occident (Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1992), 133.
  11. See Albert-Marie Schmidt, L’Amour Noir: Poèmes baroques (Monaco: Edition du Rocher, 1959). These Marinist poets are, in the approximate order of publication, François Tristan l’Hermite (1641); an anonymous poet, probably a woman, in a manuscript dated to before 1660; Georges de Scudéry (1649); Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant; Charles de Vion d’Alibray (1653); Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de La Mesnardière (1656); Jean Ogier de Gombauld (1657); Urbain Chevreau (1656); Claude de Malleville (1659); Jean de Boyssières, Jacques Carpentier de Marigny, and a few other anonymous authors. These Marinist poets are, in the approximate order of publication, François Tristan l’Hermite (1641); an anonymous poet, probably a woman, in a manuscript dated to before 1660; Georges de Scudéry (1649); Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant; Charles de Vion d’Alibray (1653); Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de La Mesnardière (1656); Jean Ogier de Gombauld (1657); Urbain Chevreau (1656); Claude de Malleville (1659); Jean de Boyssières, Jacques Carpentier de Marigny, and a few other anonymous authors.These Marinist poets are, in the approximate order of publication, François Tristan l’Hermite (1641); an anonymous poet, probably a woman, in a manuscript dated to before 1660; Georges de Scudéry (1649); Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant; Charles de Vion d’Alibray (1653); Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de La Mesnardière (1656); Jean Ogier de Gombauld (1657); Urbain Chevreau (1656); Claude de Malleville (1659); Jean de Boyssières, Jacques Carpentier de Marigny, and a few other anonymous authors. See Georges de Scudéry (1601–1667), Poesies diverses (Paris, 1649), 59. Charles de Vion d’Alibray (c. 1590–1654) Les oeuvres poetiques (Paris, 1653), 96, 111, 122. Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de La Mesnardière (1610–1663), Les poésies (Paris, 1656), 287. Jean Ogier de Gombauld (1576–1666), Les épigrammes (Paris, 1657), 132, Épigramme XVI. Urbain Chevreau (1613–1701) Poésies (Paris, 1656), Ode Pour une belle Egyptienne. Claude de Malleville (1597–1647) Poésies (Paris, 1659), 189. Schmidt, L’Amour, 92–93: an anonymous author, 1656 (Schmidt, L’Amour, 92); an anonymous author in the Recueil de diverses poésies (Paris, 1657), 29; an anonymous author in the collection La muse coquette (Paris: Loyson, 1665), vol. 2, 36 (Schmidt, L’Amour, 93).
  12. Canaries are mentioned in Saint-Amand’s “La métamorphose de Lyrian et de Sylvie,” “La vigne.” See Jean Lagny, Le poète Saint-Amant, 1594–1661 (Paris: Nizet, 1964), 49. “L’Automne dux Canaries,” Saint-Amant, Oeuvres, Troisième partie (Paris: Toussainct Quinet, 1649 and 1669), part of the four-season cycle.
  13. Yves Bénot, “Les Amis des Noirs et les ‘déclamations’ de Diderot,” in Esclavage et abolitions: Mémoires et systèmes de représentation (Paris: Karthala, 2000), 221–32, at 221–22: “Seventh conference … 1. On the Air 2. If it’s better for a State to have Slaves” (Première centurie des questions traitées ez conférences du bureau d’adresse, depuis le 22 jour d’Aoust 1633 jusques au dernier Juillet 1634, Paris, Au bureau d’adresse, 1638, 41, 53–57).
  14. Marie-Françoise Christout, “Les Noces de Pélée et de Thétis, comédie italienne en musique entremelée d’un ballet dansé par le Roi (1654),” Baroque 5 (1972), n.p.
  15. Ne me desdaignez pas pource que je suis More,/ Car comme le fils de l’Aurore,/ Bien que mon teint soit noir, je suis du sang des Dieux/ Ma race est adorée aux deux bouts de la Terre: René Bordier, Imbert and Charles Sorel, Grand bal de la douairière de Billebahaut. Ballet dansé par Sa Majesté. [n.p., n.p., n.d.], 45.
  16. Drawings by Francesco Spada, see Philippe Beaussant, Le ballet des singes et des autruches (Paris: Gallimard, Le Promeneur, 2010). According to Philippe Beaussant, the future Sun King himself colored the album of engravings with scenes from the play, filling in with brown paint the images of men dancing in feather skirts.
  17. April 14–May 20, Christout, “Les Noces,” 12, 21.
  18. However, it is also worth mentioning that the courtiers were not always able to participate in Louis XIV’s entertainments: soon after the marriage ceremony the Dauphin fell ill, causing the performance to be postponed twice, and the various ladies of the court excused themselves due to a mourning in the family, also causing delays.
  19. Paquot, “Les étrangers … Henri IV,” 33–34. Full chronology of French court ballet:ía_del_ballet_cortesano_francés_(1573–1671) is based in Margaret McGowan, L’art du ballet de cour en France (1581–1643) (Paris, CNRS, 1963), and Marie-Françoise Christout, Le ballet de cour de Louis XIV (1643–1672) (Paris, Picard, 1967); for earlier studies, see Pierre-François Godard de Beauchamps, Recherches sur les Théâtres de France depuis l’année onze cents soixante et uns … (3 vols, Paris: Prault, 1735); Pierre Lacroix, Ballets et mascarades de cour sous Henri IV et Louis XIII (6 vols, Geneva and Turin, Gay, 1686–1870); Henri Prunières, Le Ballet de Cour en France avant Benserade et Lully (Paris: H. Laurens, 1913), Paquot, “Les étrangers” and “Les étrangers … Henri IV,” Olivia Bloechl, “Race, Empire and Early Music,” in Rethinking Difference in Musical Scholarship, ed. Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe and Jeffrey Kallberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 77–107; Katharine Baetjer, ed. Watteau, Music, and Theater (New Haven: Yale University Press and New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009), 90–91, describing and reproducing the illustration by Jean Dolivar after Jean I Berain, Habit d’Indienne, and citing Roger-Armand Weigert, Jean I Berain: Dessinateur de la chambre et du cabinet du roi (1640–1711) (Paris: Nogent-le-Rotrou, 1937), vol. 2, 112–13, no. 127, and Weigert, Inventaire du fonds français: Graveurs du XVIIe siecle (Paris: Bibliotheque nationale, departement des estampes, 1954), vol. 3, 469, no. 268.
  20. Paquot, “Les étrangers … Henri IV,” 36.
  21. “Moors carrying monkeys, and leading bears;” Perrault’s caption “suggests that the performers were royal domestics of unknown origin, some costumed as bears, others as enslaved men.” Bloechl, “Race,” 89.
  22. In 1673 Cadmus and Hermione, an opera by Quinault and Lully, includes dancing “Africans” in Act I. In 1679 Masquerade in St. Germain-en-Laye features the duchess de Nemours dancing in barbouillage as Mauresse, documented by Jean Berrain’s illustration. Berrain documents that African, Persian, and Moorish costumes of 1679 incorporate elements of costume design by Gissey from 1622. In 1681 Ballet du Triomphe de l’amour by Lully celebrates the marriage of the Dauphin who dances in barbouillage as Indien. In 1683 Phaëton, an opera by Quinault and Lully, with a printed livret (libretto) suggests a page in barbouillage. It was performed at Versailles (January) and in Paris at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1683–1684, and revived six times before 1742.
  23. On Lo schiavetto and race see Emily Wilbourne, “Lo Schiavetto (1612): Travestied Sound, Ethnic Performance, and the Eloquence of the Body” in Journal of the American Musicological Society (2010) 63: 1–43.
  24. Andromède délivrée: intermède anonyme, 1623. Ed. Benoît Bolduc, preface Françoise Signoret (Paris-Seattle-Tübingen: Supplément to Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature/PFSCL 17 (70), 1992).
  25. Michel de Marolles, Tableaux du Temple des Muses tirez du cabinet de feu Mr. Favreau (Paris: Antoine de Sommaville, 1655), Memnon at p. 131, Andromeda at p. 315. The drawings for the Temple were completed c. 1635–1638 by a disciple of Rubens, Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596–1675). The prints are by Cornelis Bloemaert (1603–1692) and Pierre Brebiette (1598–1642).
  26. Three times from 1655–1733, nine times from 1733–1749, three times in English in 1733, in a folio format, including by the printer-librarian Abraham Wolfgang (1634–1694).
  27. “Il dit pour toute chose the Cephée regnoit en Ethiopie, sans designer sous quel climat. La Topographie moderne de ces contrées-là n’est pas fort connuë, et celle du temps de Cephée encor moins. Je me contenteray donc de vous dire qu’il falloit que Cephée regnast en quelque pays maritime, que sa ville capitale fust sur le bord de la mer, et que ses peuples fussent blancs quoy qu’Ethiopiens. Ce n’est pas que les Mores les plus noirs n’ayent leurs beautez à leur mode, mais il n’est pas vray-semblable que Persée qui estoit Grec et né dans Argos, fust devenu amoureux d’Andromede, si elle eust esté de leur teint. J’ay pour moy le consentement de tous les Peintres, et sur tout l’authorité du grand Heliodore qui qui ne fonde la blancheur de sa divine Chariclée que sur un tableau d’Andromède.” Pierre Corneille, Andromède (Paris: C. de Sercy, Rouen: Laurens Maurry, 1651), “Argument,” n.p. The text is the same in the first and second editions of 1651, by the same printer (Maurry) but in different typeface and the second, accompanied by engravings.
  28. “Ce que j’ay écrit d’Andromede pour la couleur de son teint, dans mon Livre des Tabelaux des Muses, a besoin de quelque correction”: Ovid, Les Epistres Heroides d’Ovide, trans. Michel de Marolles, Abbé de Villeloin (Paris: Pierre Lamy, 1661), 338 n35.
  29. On the belle noire tradition before Marino in Italian poetry, see Patrizia Bettella, The Ugly Woman: Transgressive Aesthetic Models in Italian Poetry from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 135–52.
  30. Giovanbattista Marino, La lira, 3rd part, 1614, La Bella Schiava: Nera si, ma se’bella, o di natura/ fra le belle d’amor leggiardo mostro;/ fosca è l’alba appo te, perde e s’oscura/ presso l’ebeno tuo l’avorio e l’ostro.// Or quando, or dove il mondo antico o il nostro./ vide si viva mai, senti si pura/ o luce uscir di tenebroso inchiostro,/ o di spento carbon nascere arsura?// Serva di chi m’è serva, ecco ch’avolto/ porto di bruno lacio il core intorno,/ che per candida man non fia mai sciolto.// La’ve più ardi, o Sol, sol per tuo scorno/ un Sole e nato; un Sol, che nel bel volto/ porta la Notte, ed ha negli occhi il Giorno.
  31. La belle Egiptienne: Sombre Divinité, de qui la splendeur noire,/ Brille de feux obscurs, qui peuvent tout brusler,/ La Neige n’a plus rien, qui te puisse égaller,/ Et l’Ebene auiourd’huy, l’emporte sur l’Ivoire.// De ton obscurité, vient l’esclat de ta gloire;/ Et ie voy dans tes yeux, dont ie n’ose parler;/ Un Amour Affriquain, qui s’apreste à voller,/ Et qui d’un Arc d’Ebene, aspire à la victoire.// Sorciere sans Demons, qui predis l’advenir;/ Qui regardant la main, nous viens entretenir;/ Et qui charmes nos sens, d’une aimable imposture:// Tu parois peu sçavante, en l’art de deviner;/ Mais sans t’amuser plus, à la bonne avanture;/ Sombre Divinité, tu nous la peux donner.” Georges de Scudéry, Poésies diverses dediées à Monseigneur le Duc de Richelieu (Paris, Augustin Courbe, 1649), 59.
  32. Tristan l’Hermite, La Lyre du sieur Tristan: suivi de l’Orphée, mélanges (Paris: Augustin Courbe, 1641), 165: La Belle Esclave More, Sonnet: Beau Monstre de Nature, il est vray, ton visage/ Est noir au dernier point, mais beau parfaitement:/ Et l’Ebene poly qui te sert d’ornement/ Sur le plus blanc yvoire emporte l’avantage.// O merveille divine incognuë à nostre âge !/ Qu’un objet tenebreux luise si clairement;/ Et qu’un charbon esteint, brusle plus vivement/ Que ceux qui de la flâme entretiennent l’usage!// Entre ces noires mains ie mets ma liberté ;/ Moy qui fut invincible à toute autre Beauté,/ Une More m’embrase, une Esclave me domte.// Mais cache toy Soleil, toy qui viens de ces lieux/ D’où cèt Astre est venu, qui porte pour ta honte/ La nuict sur son visage et le iour dans ses yeux.”
  33. I thank Anna Wainwright for that reference.
  34. Captif de ma captive ainsy suivre enlacé/ De l’or noir qui jamais ne sera deslacé/D’aucune blanche main, tant son esprit est forz: BnF ms fr 20605, Recueil de pièces historiques, originaux et copies. (13e–18e siècle). Vol. 3, Pièces de vers latins, français, etc. la plupart anonymes, des XVIe et XVIIe siècles, Fo 396: “Sonnet reformé par Mr. Scarron”; the annotation in the margin reads “d’une dame.”
  35. Candida si non sum; placuit Cepheia Perseo/ Andromede, patriae fusca colore suae” (Ovid, Heroides, Epist. 15 “Sappho Phaoni”). Andromeda is the daughter of Cepheus, the king of Ethiopia. See Elizabeth McGrath, “Ludovico il Moro and His Moors,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtlaud Institutes 65 (2002), 67–94; McGrath, “Veronese, Callet and the Black Boy at the Feast,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtlaud Institutes 61 (1999): 272–76; McGrath, “The Black Andromeda,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtlaud Institutes 55 (1992), 1–18.
  36. “D’ailleurs estoit-il croyable/ Et pouvoit on concevoir,/ Qu’en un climat effroyable/ Rien de si doux se peust voir?/ Ny qu’au milieu de l’Afrique/ A qui le chaut qui la pique/ Noircit mesme jusqu’au sang,/ Parmy des visages sombres/ Où les corps passent pour ombres/ Il s’en trouvast un si blanc?” “L’Andromède, à Monsieur frère unique du Roy,” Marc Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant, Les Oeuvres du sieur de Saint-Amant, reveuës, corrigées, et de beaucoup augmentées dans cette derniere Edition (Paris: Guillaume de Luyne, 1661), 33.
  37. “Et dont les beautez extremes/ Captiveroient les Dieux mesmes,/ Fust maintenant dans les fers?” Marc Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant, Les Oeuvres du sieur de Saint-Amant, reveuës, corrigées, et de beaucoup augmentées dans cette derniere Edition (Paris: Guillaume de Luyne, 1661), 34.
  38. Printed in Basel in 1526, translated into French by Jacques Amyot in 1547 and into English by Thomas Underwood in 1569. Jacques Amyot, L’histoire aethiopique, ed. Laurence Plazenet (Paris: Champion, 1928). The first book of Aethiopica was also translated by Lancelot de Carle, BnF ms français 2143, around the same time as Amyot’s. For 1600s novels and plays inspired by Aethiopica and recent scholarship, see the bibliography of Hardy’s play (2015), below.
  39. Heliodorus of Emesa, Les adventures amoureuses de Theagenes et Cariclée (Paris: Pierre Valet, 1613) and trans. Montlyard, Les amours de Théagène et Chariclée, histoire æthiopique. Traduction nouvelle (Paris: S. Thiboust, 1623). The 1613 edition was one of the first French books with etchings, while the new 1623 translation by Monlyard had a new set of copper plate illustrations. Chariclea also inspired Torquato Tasso’s warrior woman Clorinda, born white to Black Ethiopian parents, in Gerusalemme liberata (1581).
  40. Octave-César Genetay, L’étiopique, tragédie des chastes amours de Théagène et Chariclée (Rouen: T. Reinsart, 1609; Alexandre Hardy, Les chastes et loyales amours de Théagène et Cariclée (Paris: Quesnel, 1623; second corrected edition 1628; ed. Antonella Amatuzzi, Paola Cifarelli, Michele Mastroianni, Monica Pavesio and Laura Rescia, general editor Daniela Dalla Valle, Paris: Garnier, 2015).
  41. Kim Hall, “‘A New Scholarly Song’: Rereading Early Modern Race,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67, no. 1 (2016): 1–13 and Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); Dennis A. Britton and Kimberly A. Coles, “Spenser and Race: An Introduction,” Spenser Studies 35 (2021). On the sixteenth-century Italian context, see Anna Wainwright, “‘Tied Up in Chains of Adamant’: Recovering Race in Tasso’s Armida Before, and After, Acrasia’ Spenser Studies 35 (2021).
  42. Puis çà puis là pres les yeulx de ma dame/ Entre cent fleurs un retz d’or me tendoit,/ Qui tout crespu blondement descendoit/ A flotz ondez pour enlasser mon âme./ Qu’eussay-je faict? L’archer estoit si doulx/ Si doulx son feu, si doulx l’or de ses noeudz,/ Qu’en leurs filetz encore je m’oublie.
  43. Marie-Françoise and Georges de Scudéry, Almahide, parts 1–3 (Paris: Louis Billaine, 1660–1663), part 1, 133.
  44. Marie-Françoise and Georges de Scudéry, Almahide, parts 1–3 (Paris: Louis Billaine, 1660–1663), part 3, 549.
  45. I thank Masnoon Majeed for this comment.
  46. See Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French (Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1999) on racism and misogyny in nineteenth-century French tradition including Baudelaire, theater, poetry, Orientalist and Troubadour painting, and popular culture.
  47. Théophile Gautier, Portraits contemporains: littérateurs, peintres, sculpteurs, artistes dramatiques (Paris: Bibliothèque Charpentier, 1898), 383.


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