The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Bust of an African Man
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Bust of an African Man
  • Italy, possibly Rome
  • c.1650
  • Bust
  • Black (bust), white (tunic) and jasper marble (drapery).
  • Height: 69.2 cm
    Width: 48.1 cm
    Depth: 25.3 cm
  • S17
  • Porphyry Court
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • With the companion portrait of an African woman (S18), this bust belongs to a type of decorative sculpture very common throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. These objects clearly testify to a widespread interest or curiosity towards Africa at the time, but are so ubiquitous that it is usually rather difficult to place their execution both geographically and chronologically. Increased contact and trade with Africa and the Orient and the beginning of the Slave Trade during the 17th century increased the presence of Black servants in the households of the wealthy. These polychrome busts were usually conceived as pairs comprising a man and a woman and often included the orientalising costumes and turbans Black servants would wear at the time. Our busts present a different level of realism and a degree of individualisation that raise them above the many merely stereotypical “moor” busts of the 17th and 18th centuries. S17 in particular, has very little of the generic and sometimes offensive stylisation so often remarked in this type of object: the man is seemingly caught in the act of talking, his lips partly open to reveal his teeth and his head swiftly turning to the side. Main centres for the production of this type of object were Venice and Rome, although there is evidence that they were also produced in other parts of Europe, for example in Germany. Formerly mounted on Corinthian column of white marble and jasper.