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Image of the Black Archive & Library
Spanning nearly 5,000 years and documenting virtually all forms of media, the Image of the Black Archive & Library is an unprecedented research project devoted to the systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in art. Started in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Menil in reaction to the continuing existence of segregation in the United States, the Archive contains photographs of approximately 30,000 works of art, each one of which is extensively documented and categorized by the Archive's staff. For the first thirty years of the project's existence, the project focused on the production of a prize-winning, four-volume series of generously illustrated books, The Image of the Black in Western Art. Since moving to Harvard in 1994, the project is focused on the production of the final volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art and expanding access to the Archive itself (prior to its arrival at Harvard, the Archive was only available to scholars working on the published volumes). The Institute hosts conferences, fellowships for scholars, seminars, and exhibitions on issues raised by the Archive, including the African American Art Conference in 2004.
An elegantly armored black warrior resolutely charges forth, astride a mythical beast drawn straight from Greek mythology. He holds aloft an elaborate crown, a symbol of dominion over the sea. Behind this positive image of the African lies a notion of blackness held by a remarkable fraternal society in the early days of modern Germany.
The figure is mounted on a hippocamp, a hybrid creature composed of the foreparts of a horse and the tail of a fish. Horse and rider are set atop a high base supported by three black men. To its German owners, this vessel was known as a prunkkanne, or ornamental pitcher, intended for use as the centerpiece of an elaborate table service. The ensemble is enlivened by a carefully exploited variety of textures, surface effects and color contrasts. An additional impression of preciosity is created by the application of a thin layer of gold over the carefully worked silver forms. A coating of lustrous enamel provides the naturalistic effect of black skin.
The work is attributed to Hans Jakob Mair, a master craftsman active in the southern German city of Augsburg during the 17th century. Instead of stone or bronze, his works are fashioned in more malleable silver, creating a grand effect of form and movement on a small scale. This magnificent piece represents a more intimate counterpart to the expressions of political power and prestige of the Baroque Age.
The work was commissioned for the local house of the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, in Riga, Latvia, a prominent civic organization with branches throughout the eastern region of the Baltic Sea. Originally formed in the 15th century as a trading and military company, the Black Heads were once represented in nearly two dozen cities. Today only two remain, one in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, the other in the major port city of Riga. Over half a millennium, the members of the Riga house amassed more than 30 elaborately worked silver objects, including this vessel with the black rider.
originally posted by: threeeyesopen
a reply to: Spider879
What a beautiful piece of art, and made of precious metals no less (no surprise there).
It's unfortunate however that these masterpieces are often part of private collections, and thus are more often than not appreciated solely by a small group of wealthy individuals rather than on display for all to see publicly.