Portrait of Elizabeth Murray
England (c. 1650)
Oil on canvas, 124 x 119 cm
I think I have seen pictures of this before, in high school maybe, but I don’t remember there being a second person before. I seem to remember this image being cropped differently too, which is very disturbing because now that I see the entire painting, the way I remember it being cropped was very clearly and deliberately intended to remove the person holding the tray of flowers.
Since we’re throwing haymakers at the kyriarchy today, I think this is something that we should really be talking about too, because it happens
ALL. THE. TIME.
Level 1: People of Color from Medieval, Renaissance, and other Early Modern European works were often literally painted over in later decades or centuries.
Level 2: It was very fashionable in a lot of 17th and 18th century paintings to have a Black servant featured in portraits of very important historical figures from European History.
Honestly? They’re practically ubiquitous. A lot of the very famous paintings you’ve seen of European and American historical figures have a Black servant in them that have been cropped out or painted over.
Those silly stock photos from your American History Professor’s Powerpoint?
Your Professor’s PowerPoint for “George Washington”:
The actual painting:
Your professor’s Powerpoint on Jean Chardin:
The actual painting:
PowerPoint on Maria Henriette Stuart (with some commentary about the Habsburg jaw):
But, because of whitewashed history curricula, teachers and professors continue to use the cropped images because they don’t want their lecture to get “derailed” by a discussion about race.
These images are also more commonly seen on stock photo sites, including ones for academic use.
I honestly can’t find anyone really writing about this, or even any analysis on how often the cropped photos are used.
The reason they are so easy to crop out is because of the the artistic conventions which reflect the power hierarchy:
Oil paintings of aristocratic families from this period make the point clearly. Artists routinely positioned black people on the edges or at the rear of their canvasses, from where they gaze wonderingly at their masters and mistresses. In order to reveal a ‘hierarchy of power relationships’, they were often placed next to dogs and other domestic animals, with whom they shared, according to the art critic and novelist David Dabydeen, ‘more or less the same status’. Their humanity effaced, they exist in these pictures as solitary mutes, aesthetic foils to their owners’ economic fortunes.
This is drastically oversimplified, but at least it addresses it directly.
If anyone knows more on any studies or statistical evidence on this tendency, feel free to add it.
Everyone needs to read this post. I’ve seen some of these cropped images so often it never even occurred to me that this wasn’t the whole image - it definitely wouldn’t have occurred to me to do research beyond the Google Image result if (to use the example) I needed an image of Washington for a powerpoint. I’m an archaeology graduate student and TA and I do some work (and eventually, presumably some teaching) in US historical archaeology, so it’s probable that at some point I’ll be preparing a lecture that I’ll want to illustrate with an image of Washington or some other prominent figure. Far from wanting to avoid an uncomfortable discussion about race, I would so much prefer to show the full image - my god, especially if I imagine teaching about the archaeology of Mount Vernon, showing these full images of Washington and the people around him would make that discussion so much more enriching.
But I’m an archaeologist, not an art historian, not very familiar with these paintings and not trained to look critically for signs of cropping or other modification, and my first stop for illustrating a talk is Google Images, not an art gallery. I’m not interested in avoiding discussions of race, rather I’m super invested in having those discussions - and I can’t do that as well if I don’t even suspect that there’s something missing from the images I’m using.
But now I’ll remember this, and be suspicious, and look a little further into the first usable picture I find when this comes up in my teaching, as it inevitably will.
medievalpoc, I think you run the most important blog on the internet right now, thank you for doing this.
I think if enough of us take an interdisciplinary approach, we have the chance to make a REALLY huge difference!!!!
Les faize d’Alexandre (a translation of Historiae Alexandri Magni of Quintus Curtius Rufus), Bruges, c. 1468-1475
Twenty-four years ago today, December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine murdered fourteen women and wounded ten women. He entered École Polytechnique de Montréal with a Ruger Mini-14 and a hunting knife for the purpose of “fighting feminism” by murdering the female engineering students there. He began his violence in a classroom where first he ordered the students to separate into men and women. He asked the female students in French if they knew why he had singled them out.
One student answered no, and Lépine explained, “I am fighting feminism.” Nathalie Provost attempted to defuse the situation: “Look, we are just women studying engineering, not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men, just students intent on leading a normal life.” Lépine replied, “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” He opened fire and killed six women. Lépine continued through the school, committing more murders and assaults (gun and knife). Finally he killed himself. Contained in his suicide note was a hit list of nineteen more Quebec women whom he considered feminist figures.
In response to the École Polytechnique massacre, Canada designated December 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On this day we also remember all violence against women: we call attention to partner abuse and violence against women which is especially overlooked, like the violence so many Aboriginal women face.
24 years ago today, fourteen women died because they were women.
Thomas Wright of Durham’s 1742 chart of different cosmological systems, from Pythagoras to Tycho Brahe.
Medieval kids’ doodles on birch bark
Here’s something very special. In the 1950s archeologists made a great discovery near the city of Novgorod, Russia: they dug up hundreds of pieces of birch bark with all sorts of texts written on them. The 915 items are mostly letters, notes and receipts, all written between the 11th and 15th century. Among the more notable scraps is a marriage proposal from a man called Mikita to his beloved Anna: “marry me - I want you and you want me, and the witness to that is Ignat Moiseev” (item 377).
The most special items, however, are the ones shown above, which are from a medieval classroom. In the 13th century, young schoolboys learning to write filled these scraps with alphabets and short texts. Bark was ideal material for writing down things with such a short half-life. Then the pupils got bored and started to doodle, as kids do: crude drawings of individuals with big hands, as well as a figure with a raised sword standing next to a defeated beast (lower image). The last one was drawn by Onfim, who put his name next to the victorious warrior. The snippets provide a delightful and most unusual peek into a 13th-century classroom, with kids learning to read - and getting bored in the process.
More information - On the scraps in general, see here. Here is a full inventory, in Russian. On the excavation, see here and here. More kids’ doodles here and here. Some letters in this Flickr stream. The Leiden scholar Jos Schaeken published a book in Dutch on this material, which can be downloaded for free here (English translation to follow next year).
Not native BUT STILL TOO FABULOUS unh