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Black Culture in Renaissance Europe

The Uffizi launches its Black Presence project.

By Jessica Herbst

The Uffizi launched its Black Presence project on July 4 to tell the story of Black culture in Renaissance Europe. The project rediscovers the artistic aspects of Black culture present in the Uffizi’s collection through a current social media campaign.

Black figures from art history, mythology and the Bible play a central role amongst the Uffizi’s Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces. The museum displays works such as portraits of kings of Abyssinia and Ethiopia, painted by Cristofano dell’Altissimo in the 16th century; Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Dürer, in which one of the kings is painted with unmistakable African features; Piero di Cosimo’s masterpiece of the Greek myth, Perseus freeing Andromeda, depicting a musician with black skin and curly hair in the painting’s foreground; and a trio of commoners portrayed by the Flemish artist Justus Sustermans in Madonna ‘Domenica delle Cascine’, la Cecca di Pratolino e Pietro Moro.

A social media campaign is exploring nine paintings in which Africans play leading roles. 

At 8 p.m. on July 4, Justin Randolph Thompson, the director and co-founder of Black History Month Florence, aired on Tik Tok as he walked the corridors and rooms of the museum to discuss its works of art. 

Following at 9 p.m., the Burkinabé multi-instrumentalist Gabin Dabiré performed a livestream concert on Facebook from the Galleria delle Statue e delle Pitture, playing traditional African instruments in front of Perseus freeing Andromeda

The rest of the project consists of eight videos being released every week following July 4. The videos are currently being published on the Uffizi’s Facebook page, featuring Justin Randolph Thompson as he analyzes a selected work of art. 

By exploring these paintings, the Uffizi showcases the social and cultural presence of blackness in the minds of people during Renaissance Europe. It offers food for thought as racial issues continue to take center stage in the recent political debate. 

“The Uffizi is not some ivory tower of art; in fact, its collections address the major issues of our contemporary world. Through art, the museum can tell us the great story of the past while also bringing the artworks to life in the present, because its masterpieces speak a universal language that helps us not only to comprehend our own era better, but also to understand the future that we wish to build,” Director Eike Schmidt says.

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