Nijmegen school King Balthazar ca. 1483 O/ p 40 x 24 cm Collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
This Black King is called Balthazar by the Rijksmuseum. The picture is one of the earliest paintings of the African King on panel from the Netherlands and an unusual one. This small panel is probably a fragment from a larger Adoration of the Magi. The maker displays a close affinity with the Master of the St Bartholomew Altar from Cologne 1475 –1480 See http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=1091&handle=li
The African King stands in an early Renaissance- style landscape. Behind him is the road he has just taken. On bended knee before and slightly to the side of the King is a black male attendant, handing him his gift which is contained in a splendidly mounted ox horn on a lobed stand, presumably made of gold.
During the late Middle Ages this kind of showy object was prominently displayed in the chambers of guilds, rhetoricians, city councils and courts. Maybe this object contains the Myrrr
The artist has paid a great deal of attention to these two gentlemen and their elegant, almost choreographed interaction. The attendant wears a gold earring in his ear and his oriental hat has a scarf wound around its rim. The King has nothing in his ear; which is unusual for Black Kings. He wears a combination of a Hungarian hat (sometimes known as a cuman) with a crown and simple, western clothing – a sleeveless tunic, a shirt, an undershirt, hose and pointed shoes. His costume is remarkably plain. He has no mantle with a train and the length of his footwear is modest in comparison with that of Black Kings in other paintings.
This simplicity may indicate that the work was made for a monastic order which lived according to a sober rule.
Although the identity of the artist is unknown, the panel can be situated in Nijmegen. It also compares with miniatures from the same period by artists such Loyset Liedet 1420 –1479, which employ the same simplicity and feature the same fifteenth-century clothing, at a time when contemporaries working in oil on panel, such as Hans Memling (c. 1433 –1494) and Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 –1516), were actually decking out their Kings in rich and fanciful costumes.
Esther Schreuder in the Black is beautiful,Rubens to Dumas Catalogue (2008)
In 2008 I was guest curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues, Warburg institute Image of the Black in Western Art collection), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available to me.
In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)
In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)
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