Deciphering Jan Jansz Mostaert’s Portrait of an African Man reveals the presence of Black bodies within European court circles and hints at their position within them.
This 16th-century portrait attributed to Annibale Carracci is valuable for its realistic depiction of a Black sitter, possibly a seamstress, who is dressed in a fine but sensible black day dress with touches of Italian luxury.
Diego Bemba’s 1643 portrait, along with those of Pedro Sunda and Miguel de Castro, represents an early example of cultural exchange in which African ambassadors donning European costume in order to project a carefully curated image of cultural capital.
This young woman dressed in blue silk edged with lace demonstrates fashionable simplicity for the 1770s, and may have lived in a Spanish or British colony in the Americas.
The young man in this portrait, dressed in formal French aristocratic style, represents the final flourish (or last gasp?) of the ancien régime in the last years before the French Revolution.
1787-9 – Alexandre-August Robineau, The Fencing-Match between the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Eon
This 18th-century painting commemorates an historic fencing match between two French knights: one an illegitimate Black nobleman and the other a gender nonconforming spy.
This important painting of a Black Haitian deputy, once enslaved, commemorates his participation in the assembly that abolished slavery in France in 1794. He wears the tricolored uniform of a deputy of the French National Convention and only his gold earring speaks to his Colonial ties.
Elizabeth Keckley, a remarkably successful dressmaker, built her career upon exacting technical standards, graceful clean lines, and an understanding of Parisian fashionable trends. She is well known for her work for the political elite of Washington DC, particularly for Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley was one of the first African American women to publish a book and was an impassioned activist who created a relief organization for newly freed enslaved persons.
This lush purple velvet dress designed by Elizabeth Keckley for Mary Todd Lincoln features both an evening and day bodice paired with a wide crinoline skirt. The ensemble, worn in 1861-62 while Lincoln was First Lady, reflects fashionable dress trends of the time.
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