Whitewashing the Whitewashed Renaissance: Italian Renaissance Art through a Kapharian Lens

Rebecca M. Howard

“You remember old-school cameras, where when you took a picture, you actually had to focus? Right? You’d put the camera up, and if I wanted you in focus, I would move the lens a little to the left and you would come forward. I could move the lens a little to the right, and you would go back and the folks in the background would come out. I’m just trying to do that here. I’m trying to give you that opportunity.”
– Titus Kaphar[1]

[print edition page number: 247]
This exercise asks students to refocus and amend long-held ways of viewing early modern Italian works of art that incorporate Black Africans alongside white Europeans. As its base and inspiration, the methodology utilizes the work of the contemporary African American artist Titus Kaphar. The following case study involves a detailing of background information that can be used for teaching existing scholarship on the images to be discussed, followed by pedagogical resources, detailed approaches, and discussion questions that instructors may use to engage with this material in the classroom. This methodology initiates a discussion of race in the Renaissance, specifically focusing on the Italian Renaissance, but applicable in a range of Western artworks from this period. First considering the aims of Titus Kaphar, who intends to amend history through his paintings and sculptures, this essay will then provide a brief study of blackness in early modernity, as well as information about certain early modern Italian works. [248]

Born in 1976, Titus Kaphar is a contemporary African American artist, whose works act as physical deconstructions of a white-centered western past and as such, can be widely applied to a number of works from the Italian Renaissance and beyond. Kaphar received his MFA from Yale University and has seen a steady rise in fame and influence in recent decades. According to the artist’s official website, his works “examine the history of representation by transforming its styles and mediums with formal innovations to emphasize the physicality and dimensionality of the canvas and materials themselves.” In so doing, he aims to “dislodge history from its status as the ‘past’ in order to unearth its contemporary relevance,” shining light on evident active absences or instances of marginalization found in certain works from the past.[2] In discussing race in the Italian Renaissance, the contemporary relevance of Kaphar’s works can help us better understand and connect with the past, particularly by viewing certain works through what I call a Kapharian lens. Kaphar’s choice of the word unearth in talking about his creative goals is of importance in what this essay aims to do — asking students to reconsider and amend the works that they are viewing in and out of the classroom. In Kaphar’s artistic approach of exposing elements like structure, material, and compositional choices, he in fact unearths an entirely new way of viewing.

Many of Kaphar’s works are quite clear, even straightforward, in what they intend to visually convey, thus providing a useful ignition for students to begin discussing and studying a difficult subject. As we will see, the artist frequently aims to provide a new lens — the Kapharian lens — for viewers to look through, inspiring new and careful ways of thinking about the works that they are seeing. Having learned about Kaphar’s contemporary pieces and their intended impact, and then having considered specific early modern artworks with Kaphar’s aims in mind, students will be able to apply this knowledge toward reconsidering said works, utilizing the Kapharian lens and thereby re-focusing their approach to both discussing and further researching many early modern pieces. [249]

Titus Kaphar Reconsiders Frans Hals

Black characters appearing in Renaissance artworks are often marginalized, sidelined, and quite clearly not the intended primary focus of the majority of works in which they appear. As such, scholarship has continued for centuries to ignore or merely gloss over their presence. The careful composition of certain works of art is one of Kaphar’s primary concerns. Any class activity or discussion inspired by this essay should begin with the artist’s incredibly impactful TED talk of 2017, “Can Art Amend History?” In this talk, he explains that, having taken a number of art history courses in his past, he recognizes that “painting is a visual language where everything in the painting is meaningful, is important. It’s coded.” However, Kaphar notes that sometimes, “because of the compositional structure, because of compositional hierarchy, it’s hard to see other things,”[3] meaning, our attention is not explicitly directed to them. He is largely referring to those people who have been pushed aside not only in the artworks themselves, but also, problematically, in the scholarship. Kaphar states that he wants his artworks to help people both think of history and see history in new ways. Noting that history — good or bad — is important, his intention is not to change or erase history, but instead to amend it, thereby altering our focus: “What I’m trying to show you is how to shift your gaze just slightly, just momentarily.”[4] In his talk, Kaphar asks that we look at certain historical images as though we are looking through an “old-school camera.” The artist wants viewers to shift the focus of one’s looking in the way that we would shift the camera’s focus.[5] When you move your lens, and instead use a Kapharian lens, different figures come in and out of focus, expanding and changing our understanding of race in the period. [250]


Painting showing a Black boy standing beside four white men and women. White messy brush strokes cover the bodies and faces of everyone but the boy.
Figure 1. Titus Kaphar, Shifting the Gaze, 2017, 211 x 262 cm, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy of the artist and the artist’s estate

Completed during his TED talk, which is an interesting and accessible addition to any classroom discussion on the topic of race in the Renaissance, Kaphar’s 2017 work, Shifting the Gaze, now owned by the Brooklyn Museum, calls direct attention to these concerns about the way certain early modern works were composed, as well as the way we view them today (Figure 1). While Shifting the Gaze is not based on an Italian artwork, the original painting that Kaphar amends is from the early modern period and the refocused approach is entirely applicable to similar images. For the creation of this work, Kaphar first paints a group portrait largely inspired by (in fact, nearly a perfect copy of) the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Frans Hals’ Family Group in a Landscape (c. 1645–1648), located in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional (Figure 2). Hals’ piece depicts a group of four white individuals, presumably family members, [251] accompanied by a Black figure. In Hals’ painting, as well as in Kaphar’s later version, this young Black man looks out directly into the viewer’s space. Using this painting as a base, Kaphar alters the group portrait in front of a live audience, during his TED talk. While doing so, he states that he wants to know about the Black character, too. As he explains, “What I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to show you, is how to shift your gaze just slightly, just momentarily … ”[6] By looking through a Kapharian lens, we might now begin to consider what further research could bring to light. [252]


Painting of a colonial family of four. A Black boy stands behind the family, obscured in the shadows.
Figure 2. Frans Hals, Family Group in a Landscape, c. 1645–1648), 202 x 285 cm, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Courtesy of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza.

As many scholars of early modernity have noted, when both white and Black figures are included in the same work, it is the Black characters that are typically placed in marginal positions — pushed to the background or sides.[7] And, as mentioned, this marginalization is apparent in most scholarship on Renaissance art historical topics, as well, especially scholarship that was conducted before the twenty-first century. “Historically speaking,” Kaphar states, “in research on these kinds of paintings, I can find out more about the lace that the woman is wearing in this painting — the manufacturer of the lace — than I can about [the Black man’s] character … about his dreams, about his hopes, about what he wanted out of life.”[8] This is exactly the long-established tendency with which Kaphar’s works take issue. The hope behind his creation of pieces like Shifting the Gaze is that viewers will be inspired and reminded to look more closely at any image that includes both Black and white figures within the same piece. The artist is essentially asking us to always consider the lives of Black characters beyond only thinking of them in relation to an artwork’s white characters.

A Shift in Our Gaze

This biased history does not need merely to be erased, then, but instead it is our gaze and our understanding that needs to be altered and shifted. When Kaphar paints over the members of the white European family in Shifting the Gaze, literally “whitewashing” the white figures, he makes sure that the audience is aware that this alteration is largely temporary. “I don’t want you to think that this is about eradication. It’s not,” he says, explaining that the paint he uses is mixed with an oil that will cause it to fade overtime, thereby allowing the white characters to eventually reemerge, albeit partially.[9] Of course, this white paint will never fade [253] entirely, existing as a reminder of the necessity of refocusing our viewing of certain images. Kaphar is asking us to reset our lens, bringing others into focus and amending history, in order to better understand all the characters of that history. Just as other recent endeavors have attempted to do (such the 2013 exhibition, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland), Kaphar also aims to take prized pieces of art history, “polished to a glow by generations of attention,” and turn each piece in an “unexpected direction, so it catches the searching, scouring rays of new investigative light.”[10] As art historian Adrienne Childs notes, this kind of reclamation of humanity and assertion of the Black presence in history is popular within many artists’ oeuvres in our contemporary moment.[11] While Kaphar’s Shifting the Gaze, especially when paired with his TED talk during which he completes the work, is extremely powerful and quite straightforward in its intention (and thus useful in the context of teaching), the expectation is that, by discussing Kaphar’s goal in Shifting the Gaze, students may develop an interest in various other contemporary artists who are working in a similar vein by connecting the lauded works of a dubious past to our own present.

Explaining his reasoning for works like Shifting the Gaze, Kaphar shares that his numerous art history classes led him to rethink certain artworks of the past, thus inspiring the creation of his exceptional works of today. In their deliberate connections to canonical moments in art history’s past, this artist’s creations are particularly well-suited for an exercise that is focused on the so-called pinnacle period of western art history — the Italian Renaissance. Kaphar speaks specifically about that moment that produced a certain cognitive spark and defined much of the course of his work. In an art history survey course in college, he noticed that only fourteen out of approximately four hundred pages in the course’s required textbook were dedicated to Black people in painting. Despite issues with the section’s organization and design, Kaphar exclaims that he was “really [254] excited about it, because in all the other classes that I had, we didn’t even have that conversation. We didn’t talk about it at all.”[12] Nevertheless, the section was skipped in his course. Despite being incorporated into the course’s textbook, the professor chose not to discuss it with the class at all. This is what Kaphar’s artworks aim to change by drawing attention to and refocusing our gaze toward works by Black artists, and Black individuals within white artists’ works, that have been glossed over or even skipped entirely in the broad spectrum of the field of art history. And, when incorporated into the study of Italian Renaissance art, an exercise like the one I discuss in the following sections aims to do the same.

Blackness and Black Individuals in Renaissance Thought

Having introduced a classroom to the work of Titus Kaphar, I suggest that instructors now discuss some of the extensive scholarship that directly examines early modern artworks that include both white and Black individuals in the same space, a field of research that has been addressed on a larger scale only in recent decades. While considering various exemplary works, ask students to think about what new questions and concerns a Kapharian lens could help to unearth. What new ways of looking might finally be allowed if we “amend” certain early modern artworks? When white European characters are removed or whitewashed, even if temporarily, what is left and what should viewers make of it? What additional information can then be brought to light? Just as Kaphar’s aim is to “reveal something of what has been lost and to investigate the power of a rewritten history,” students should similarly be inspired to shift their looking, which can ultimately lead the field to new research and scholarship.[13]

Before discussing specific images, it is first important to understand and convey to students early modern views of blackness. In the catalogue accompanying the previously mentioned exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, Joaneath [255] Spicer, the museum’s Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art, explains how most Europeans perceived a polarity between blackness and whiteness, which was largely drawn from biblical sources. Long histories of understanding Heaven as a place of light and Hell as a place of darkness fostered attitudes toward black and white as reflecting certain opposing values. There was an overall negativity associated with darkness and blackness that stems from as far back as Old Testament sources. Spicer writes, for example, “that anything horrible might be described as ‘black,’ such as the deadly plague, which in the 1500s began to be called ‘the black death,’ not because of the color of victims but because of the horror it engendered.”[14] Furthermore, biblical examples like Christ’s declaration in the Gospel of John that, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness (8:12),” describe similar polarities between light and dark which seem to have been transferred to polarities between white and black.[15] Satan was also said to be black, as were his demons. And, according to other early modern figures such as the playwright Thomas Nashe, “As God is entitled the Father of Light, so is the devil surnamed the Prince of Darkness, which is the night.”[16] Powerful metaphorical allusions like these, Spicer explains, placed black and white on a moral spectrum — blackness essentially reflecting evil and whiteness reflecting good, a concept that is explored further in Matthieu Chapman’s essays in this collection, “Mapping Race in Early Modern Europe” and “Sight-Reading Race in Early Modern Drama: Dog Whistles, Signifiers, and the Grammars of Blackness,” co-authored by Joshua Kelly. “Sin itself was black, blackening and corrupting the soul by soiling it with a rejection of God,” Spicer [256] writes.[17] Blackness was, thus, frequently seen as a sort of embodied, inherent vice.[18] Furthermore, for Europeans, “goodness” was also reflected in ideals of beauty. In Renaissance Italy, standards of beauty were held to ideals drawn from the poetic writings of Francesco Petrarca (or Petrarch), which included small features, long golden hair, and pale skin.[19] And in opposition, in the European Renaissance mind, the African continent was seen as “a place of freakish beasts and bestial, violence-prone, naturally subject peoples.”[20]

At the same time, however, numerous court cities in Renaissance Italy treated Black individuals as objects to be collected and as symbols of prestige and wealth in their apparent exoticism. The mid- to late fifteenth century sees a slight increase in imagery and textual sources depicting Black Africans in Italy, and art historian Paul Kaplan explains that this is likely in part due to the rise of the West African slave trade.[21] One of the most intriguing cases of such collecting for the purposes of exotic display, however, is that of Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, one of the Italian peninsula’s northern court cities. It is well-recorded that Isabella was particularly invested in collecting objects of art and of rarity and interest, and Black servants were certainly considered as such. In 1491, Isabella d’Este instructed one of her agents in Venice to find her an African child, “as black as possible” and no older than four.[22] According to Kaplan, documentation [257] shows that the marchioness already had at least one Black child; as Isabella wrote, “We couldn’t be more pleased with our black girl [moretta] even if she were blacker, because from being at first a little disdainful she has now become pleasing in words and acts, and we think she’ll make the best buffoon in the world.”[23] Ultimately, Isabella also came to acquire another two-year-old Black girl from a Venetian orphanage, initiated negotiations for a Black boy enslaved in a Venetian household, and purchased a Black girl for her sister, along with additional Black servants for herself over the years.[24]

While it was not yet in vogue in the 1490s for portrait sitters to have themselves depicted with such prized exotic “possessions,” there are later images that do exactly this. Despite the obsession that the Este family, among others, seemed to hold toward Black people, these figures remained relatively invisible in artworks until the 1520s, when the first known portrait of a sitter with their Black servant appears. Titian’s Portrait of Laura Dianti (c. 1523), the official mistress of the Duke Alfonso d’Este, Isabella’s brother, is the earliest known freestanding portrait that includes a Black African attendant.[25] Art historian Kate Lowe, who has contributed a wealth of scholarship to the subject of Black Africans in Renaissance artworks, explains that the very composition of this piece is particularly telling. “The position of the African in a scene vis-à-vis other humans can … suggest inferiority, as in the case with the young Black children who were so prized at European courts, and who were sometimes painted alongside their owners or masters/mistresses … ”[26] The smaller stature of the child juxtaposed with Laura Dianti makes clear that he is meant to be seen as the less important of the two. And for Kaplan, the Black child is a clear marker of the sitter’s aristocratic status and fashionable tastes. “The child’s spectacular striped silk costume signifies the [258] wealth at Laura’s disposal,” while also likely indicating one of the child’s roles as an entertainer for the court.[27] Interestingly, though, some have seen the relationship between Laura and the child as somewhat affectionate, explaining that this may be attributed to Laura’s own situation as a mistress from a lower-class family, which might, in some ways, be reflected in the situation of the child. As Kaplan concludes, Laura’s “visual appeal had led to her acquisition by a member of the elite and to a privileged, if not very independent, life.”[28] [259]


A man in armor stands with two pages. The white page fastens the man's sleeve, while the Black page holds a helmet in the shadows.
Figure 3. Paris Bordone, Portrait of a Man in Armor with Two Pages, c. 1550, 117 x 157 cm, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This particular portrait by Titian initiated a new fashion in the realm of portraiture, causing such compositions to appear with rapidly increasing frequency. The Venetian artist Paris Bordone’s Portrait of a Man in Armor with Two Pages (c. 1550), for example, follows the same type (Figure 3). While the sitter is yet to be identified with certainty, the individuality with which his two young pages are depicted suggests that these figures may very well be portraits of specific boys working for the sitter, which in fact reflects a mid-sixteenth century fashion to have pairs of Black and white servant boys.[29] Unlike the awestruck gaze of the Black attendant in Laura’s portrait, though, the unknown man here is doted on by his white servant, while the Black child works as the painting’s interlocutory figure — looking out at and seemingly posing for the viewer in order to capture our attention. He functions as an interesting rarity, a way for the sitter to show his wealth, power, and connections, and making this message all the more overt by directly connecting with the viewer. This reading, while valid, can be strengthened by the use of a Kapharian lens. The Black child’s value and interest has only been considered by way of his relationship with the white sitter, as well as in comparison with the white attendant. In applying a Kapharian lens and temporarily amending history, however, viewers should be inspired to question the boy’s personal background, his family, and his future and dreams, as Kaphar recommends.

The Unique Case of Renaissance Venice

Considering that a majority of Italian Renaissance works that incorporate Black figures come from Venice and the Veneto (the mainland areas near the island city of Venice, once part of the Republic of Venice), we need to discuss in a bit more depth this cosmopolitan Republic in particular. In artworks from early modern Venice, one can find a variety of people from different races, which was clearly intended to reflect the diversity of this unique city. The so-called eyewitness style that experiences a vogue in late Quattrocento (1400s or fifteenth century) Venice is characterized by a journalistic approach, capturing every minute detail of the city when conveying [260] a particular event, in order to make the reality of that event all the more believable. The eyewitness style is notably carried out in a number of works by late Quattrocento and early Cinquecento (1500s or sixteenth century) painters, Vittore Carpaccio and the Bellini brothers, Gentile and Giovanni.

Both Black servants and freed Black slaves were common in early modern Venetian society. While there is little known extant documentation regarding Black people in early modern Venice and the Veneto, paintings in the eyewitness style have afforded scholars a meticulous rendering of the Republic of Venice, and, “one of the salient features [that artists] made sure to include was the presence of black Africans,” which was an often very social, visible presence.[30] Among the examples of such images are two particularly intriguing works by Vittore Carpaccio, his Healing of the Madman (c. 1496) (Figure 4) and his Hunting on the Lagoon (c. 1490–1495), both of which incorporate depictions of Black gondoliers.

The most comprehensive consideration of the role of Black gondoliers in Renaissance Venice, especially their appearance in works of art, has been carried out by Kate Lowe, whose work on the subject appears not only in the 2012 Walters Art Museum catalogue, but also in a fascinating study in a 2013 volume of Renaissance Quarterly entitled, “Visible Lives: Black Gondoliers and Other Black Africans in Renaissance Venice.”[31] In fact, even though it is lengthy, this article is well-suited for discussing in greater detail the appearance of Black characters in early modern Italian paintings; I routinely assign it as a reading for students, especially those in upper-level courses. Lowe explains that, even though the assumption of modern western viewers is that Black figures in many Renaissance paintings are depictions of slaves, it is important to note that we cannot be certain about legal status. This is because, in Venice, “a niche occupation for freed black Africans existed, linked to their prior lives in West Africa: that of gondolier.”[32] As such, it is not, in fact, unusual to find a Black gondolier [261] in an eyewitness style work that is intended to capture the city in careful, journalistic detail.


Painting depicting the crowded streets and canals of Venice. On a balcony, men in white robes kneel as a man is blessed by a priest.
Figure 4. Vittore Carpaccio, Healing of the Madman (Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross at the Ponte di Rialto), c. 1496, 365 x 389 cm, tempera on canvas, Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice, photograph courtesy of Didier Descouens, Creative Commons, Public Domain.

As slavery in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe was usually not for life, Black Africans were increasingly integrated into society.[33] Nevertheless, [262] many scholars have continued to gloss over their presence and the variety of their experiences. Through a Kapharian lens, perhaps both current and future historians of visual culture can shift their viewing of a work like Carpaccio’s Healing of the Madman, focusing their attention and study on that figure who was socially cast aside and who has long been academically cast aside — the Black gondolier in the foreground. Amending our viewing of such an image, and conducting important historical studies like Lowe’s, helps to form new questions and to inspire new avenues of research and scholarship.

As noted above, even though images in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy frequently incorporated Black characters, it has indeed not been until the last thirty years or so that scholarship has given much attention to these figures at all. The roles played by Africans were simply not factored into traditional histories of Renaissance Europe.[34] Yet, these figures were part of that history and exist within the oeuvre of Italian Renaissance art, necessitating much more study than they have been given. Representations of Black Africans in the European Renaissance are typically read very simply, as “servants to the elite, as markers of the ethnic diversity of the Islamic world, as components of the Magi story, and more broadly as emblems of Christian evangelical universalism,” and it is assumed that the appearance of Black characters being incorporated in these ways began in the late Middle Ages.[35] In general, the names of these characters have been lost, but this does not negate the possibility that even generalized studies of their stories and their histories can still be conducted.[36] [263]

Employing the Kapharian Lens in the Classroom

Having considered the history of blackness in the Renaissance and the goals of the contemporary American artist Titus Kaphar, I ultimately suggest that instructors ask their students to look at Renaissance images anew, through a Kapharian lens. What is left when we whitewash the whitewashed Renaissance? What new things become visible when we deliberately remove certain compositional features and focal points? Utilizing this approach in the classroom might involve asking students, either alone or in groups, to formulate discussion questions meant to focus the viewer’s attention entirely on the Black figure(s) in an artwork, perhaps even utilizing a tool like Photoshop to temporarily paint over the white figures. Students should consider whether any given person is included for the sole purpose of displaying exoticism and/or cultural connectivity and hierarchy, as seen in works such as Titian’s Portrait of Laura Dianti. Or might we be inspired to think more thoroughly and deeply about the roles of Black Africans in early modern Italian society? Who, specifically, is the young Black boy in Titian’s painting? What might we be able to discover about his life and his social roles? These questions are particularly interesting in works like Carpaccio’s Healing of the Madman, along with others in the eyewitness style, which were known to frequently be filled with identifiable portrait likenesses of real early modern people living in Venice. Might period viewers have been able to recognize Carpaccio’s gondolier? Can we know if he was enslaved or freed? Can his attire, his boat, or even his patron tell us more about his social status? What was his life like? His future? What really happens if we, as viewers, amend this painting, removing everyone else and leaving only the Black gondolier? How could this shift in focus enhance our understanding of the figure’s role, his status, his personality, even his life? Ultimately, this methodology intends to inspire students to approach and discuss canonical Renaissance images in an entirely new way, allowing for a better understanding of how history continues to resonate in our still-fractured modern world. [264]

Possible Discussion Questions

  1. For what purpose is any given marginalized/sidelined figure included in Renaissance art?
  2. When our attention is refocused entirely to a single figure, what new questions arise?
  3. Can research help us to identify who these figures are, or figures like them?
  4. What can a figure’s attire, actions, and surroundings tell us about their social role, personality, or life?
  5. What new questions and concerns does a Kapharian lens enable us to unearth?
  6. How does the temporary removal of other figures in an artwork help us to refocus our looking, and therefore, our understanding of a figure and an image as a whole?
  7. When white European characters are — even temporarily — removed, what is left? What additional information is then allowed to be brought to light?
  8. What new ways of looking finally come to the forefront when we amend early modern artworks?
  9. How does a deliberate, yet temporary, change in an artwork’s composition allow us to rethink its purpose and function?

Further Selected Images for Teaching and Research

Titian, Portrait of Laura dei Dianti, c. 1523

Vittore Carpaccio, Hunting on the Lagoon, c. 1490–1495

attributed to Annibale Carracci, Portrait of an African Slave Woman, c. 1580s

Mantegna, Camera Picta / Camera degli Sposi ceiling oculus, 1465–1474

Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, from the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, c. 1459–1462

Follower of Leone Leoni, Bust of Giacomo Maria Stampa, 1553, marble

Titan, Portrait of Fabrizio Salvaressa, 1558

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1559

Paolo Veronese, Marriage at Cana, 1562–1563

Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi, 1573 [265]

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bestor, Jane Fair. “Titian’s Portrait of Laura Eustochia: The Decorum of Female Beauty and the Motif of the Black Page.” Renaissance Studies 17, no. 4 (2003): 628–73.

Bindman, David, ed. The Image of the Black in Western Art: From the “Age of Discovery” to the Age of Abolition. Vol. III, part I, Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque. Cambridge: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010.

Childs, Adrienne L. “Presence of Mind.” Transition, no. 111, New Narratives of Haiti (2013): 159–65.

Debrunner, HansWerner. Presence and Prestige: Africans in Europe: A History of Africans in Europe before 1918. Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1979.

Erickson, Peter. “Invisibility Speaks: Servants and Portraits in Early Modern Visual Culture.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2009): 23–61.

———. “Representations of Blacks and Blackness in the Renaissance.” Criticism 35, no. 4 (1993): 499–527.

Fortini Brown, Patricia. Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Kaphar, Titus. official website: https://kapharstudio.com/

———. TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/titus_kaphar_can_art_ amend_history?language=en

Kaplan, Paul. “Titian’s Laura Dianti and the Origins of the Motif of the Black Page in Portraiture.” Antichità Viva 21, (1982): 11–18.

Lowe, Kate. “Isabella d’Este and the Acquisition of Black Africans at the Mantuan Court.” In Mantova e il Rinascimento italiano: studi in onore di David S. Chambers edited by Philippa Jackson and Guido Rebecchini, 65–76. Mantova, Semetti, 2011.

———. “Visible Lives: Black Gondoliers and Other Black Africans in Renaissance Venice.” Renaissance Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2013): 412–52.

Mark, Peter. “Africans in European Eyes: The Portrayal of Black Africans in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Europe.” MA thesis, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1974. [266]

———. “Africans in Venetian Renaissance Painting: The Social Status of Black Men in Late Fifteenth Century Venice.” Renaissance 2, A Journal of Afro-American Studies 4, (1975): 7–11.

McKee, Sally. “Domestic Slavery in Renaissance Italy.” Slavery and Abolition 29, no. 3 (2008): 305–26.

Spicer, Joaneath, ed. Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe. Baltimore, MD: Trustees of the Walters Art Museum, 2012.

  1. Titus Kaphar (August 2017), “Can art amend history?” TED talk (video file), retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/titus_kaphar_can_art_amend_history?language=en.
  2. Titus Kaphar, official website, https://kapharstudio.com/, accessed March 4, 2019.
  3. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  4. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  5. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  6. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  7. Kate Lowe, “The Lives of African Slaves and People of African Descent in Renaissance Europe,” in The Image of the Black in Western Art: From the “Age of Discovery” to the Age of Abolition, Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, Part III, edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 19.
  8. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  9. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  10. Holland Cotter, “A Spectrum from Slaves to Saints,” The New York Times, November 8, 2012.
  11. Adrienne L. Childs, “Presence of Mind,” Transition, no. 111, New Narratives of Haiti (2013): 159–65, at 164.
  12. Kaphar, “Can art amend history?” TED talk.
  13. Kaphar, official website.
  14. Joaneath Spicer, “European Perceptions of Blackness as Reflected in the Visual Arts,” in Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, edited by Joaneath Spicer, The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, MD: Trustees of the Walters Art Museum, 2012), 56, n16.
  15. Gospel of John, 8:12; Spicer, “European Perceptions,” 38; Craig Koslofsky, Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 10.
  16. Works of Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night, A Discourse of Apparitions (London, 1594), edited by R.B. McKerrow (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904), 345–47.
  17. Spicer, “European Perceptions,” 37–38.
  18. Childs, “Presence of Mind,” 161.
  19. Spicer, “European Perceptions,” 41.
  20. Cotter, “A Spectrum from Slaves to Saints,” The New York Times. For more on negative early modern views of darkness, and by extension, blackness, see, Spicer, “European Perceptions,” in Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe; Koslofsky, Evening’s Empire; Michel Pastoureau, Black: The History of a Color (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). See also, primary sources, including, St. Augustine, Confessions, book 13, chap. 14; St. Augustine, Sermons on Selected Passages of the New Testament, no. 75, section 5; and Works of Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night.
  21. Paul H.D. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” in The Image of the Black in Western Art: From the “Age of Discovery” to the Age of Abolition, Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, Part III, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 93.
  22. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 102.
  23. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 102.
  24. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 102.
  25. This painting is currently housed in a private collection. However, it can be found through internet searches and is one of many of its type. There are also a number of copies based on the original.
  26. Lowe, “The Lives of African Slaves,” 17–19.
  27. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 109.
  28. Jane Fair Bestor, “Titian’s portrait of Laura Eustochia: the decorum of female beauty and the motif of the black page,” Renaissance Studies 17, no. 4 (2003): 628–73, at 636; and Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 109.
  29. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 126.
  30. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 95.
  31. Kate Lowe, “Visible Lives: Black Gondoliers and Other Black Africans in Renaissance Venice,” Renaissance Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2013): 412–52.
  32. Lowe, “The Lives of African Slaves,” 14.
  33. Concerning early modern slavery in many European cities, Lowe writes that, “on the death of a master or mistress, either a slave was freed or a set period of further enslavement was fixed. In Europe, a future freed life for slaves was envisages, and consequently slaves always lived in hope that they would be freed from bondage.” (Lowe, “The Lives of African Slaves,” 13–14.)
  34. Childs, “Presence of Mind,” 159.
  35. Kaplan, “Italy, 1490–1700,” 93.
  36. Cotter, “A Spectrum from Slaves to Saints,” The New York Times.


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