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Blackamoor is a genre of figurines or small sculptures which depict exotic, non-European races. This genre of figurines was popular in Europe during the early Modern period following the late Middle Ages and most often portrayed African males. The African figure is typically depicted with a turban or similar head covering, dressed in lavish jewels, and often holding a tray or container of some sort. They are usually carved from ebony or painted black in the case of porcelain, which creates a striking contrast with their gold embellishments.

The popularity of blackamoors can be attributed to mid-17th century wealthy European families who admired the stature and fighting ability of North African warriors. Princes and wealthy Italian families enlisted these warriors for their own private armies and appointed them to positions as personal bodyguards. Some blackamoor figures can be seen in a group scene with Europeans, such as "Hunters with Blackamoor" by the Hochst Manufactory in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.

Some controversy surrounds blackamoor figures, with debate as to whether or not they can be considered racist. While the figures may be interpreted as noble by some, others find they enforce stereotypes. However, it is important to keep in mind that the creation of blackmoor figures was originally a response to the Moorish occupation of Europe. The making of blackamoor figures was a respected craft in Italy, passed down from one generation to the next.

Quick Facts

  • Original blackamoor figures were made from wood by Venetian sculptors
  • A Meissen blackamoor figure sold at Christie's London in July 2013 for $3,068
  • In 2011, a 19th-century ceramic blackamoor figure sold at Sotheby's Australia for $1,440

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