Rembrandt’s Blacks

Black people in Rembrandt’s art.The portrayal of Africans in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. This talk examines Rembrandt’s role in that period

About this Event

Michael Ohajuru presents a personal view of the ground breaking Rembrandt’s Blacks exhibition now on at the Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam, revealing a multicultural 17th century Amsterdam, what that black presence signified then and how that it relates to today.

The image of the Black changed throughout the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century from the celebrated image of the two Black men by Rembrandt to become marginalized figures in Dutch paintings.

In 1999 renowned historian Simon Schama saw it as ‘truly amazing is that Rembrandt should have access to African models’ in seventeenth century Amsterdam of the Dutch Golden Age , today we thanks to the work of the cultural historian Mark Ponte we know that there was community of Black folk there at the time , some even living on same street as Rembrandt.

This presentation examines the changes that took place in the image and how it developed over the period. Revealing how and why the image of the Black changed and how its changes reverberate to day with the Dutch response to its ignored, most times forgotten Black past as it is brought into focus by Black Lives Matter movement.

About the Speaker

The Image of the Black in London Galleries (IBLG) highlights the black presence to be found in the national art collections in London.

There is a black presence in many of the works in the nation’s collections in London. That presence takes many different forms; blacks are depicted as musicians, as kings, as slaves, as servants, as saints and sometime just as people and even as artist in their own right. The Black Presence is most cases is explicit though not immediately and sometimes the presence has to teased out, IBLG seeks to make that Black presence better known.

The image of the Black in London Galleries was inspired by three things:

1 The Image of the Black in Western Art

The Image of the Black in Western Art is the seminal multi volume work of images of people of African descent from early Greek to the current day, it was an attempt by an American philanthropist to address the absence of the black figure in Western canonical art at time of racial unrest and injustice. It continues to be updated; the latest volume (2017) addresses Asian and African art.

2 Temi Odumosu’s work at the National Gallery

Temi produced a list of all the works in the National Gallery’s collection she could find which had a black presence. That list was available at the information desk and on line, both are now (2017) sadly no longer available. That deleted web presence now can be reached via the WayBack machine here.

3 Art Historical London

I was asked by Art Historical London following a recommendation by the folks at Black History Walks in April 2017, to give a tour of the black presence in a London national collection. Up to that time (thanks to Janet Browne at the V&A) I had worked on the black presences in the Victoria and Albert museum, in order to deliver the National Gallery talk as required I had to expand my data base of images which is presented here as IBLG.

Michael Ohajuru

Senior Fellow Institute of Commonwealth Studies

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