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Jan 26, 2007

Crushing first serves, casting ominous glances across the net and showing not the slightest hint of vulnerability...

Serena is back! At least she made everyone say her name as she won her third Austrailian Open and eighth Grand Slam by beating her opponent Sharapova in a mere 63 minutes. Maybe people will stop critising her simply because she wants to have a well rounded life. Let the sister play tennis and act, and travel, etc. Last night she proved she can still command respect in the arena that provided the opportunity for her to become a sports icon and inspiration, along with her sister Venus, to every little brown girl that dreams of playing tennis professionally.

Jan 25, 2007

The Measure of a Man

Without a doubt Sidney Poitier is one of the most eloquent, accomplished, and distinguished actors Hollywood has even known. His new autobiography, The Measure of a Man is a must read. Can you answer these 20 questions about Sir Poitier?

Jan 22, 2007

Black Africans in Renaissance Europe


Publisher Comments:
This highly original book opens up the almost entirely neglected area of the black African presence in Western Europe during the Renaissance. Covering history, literature, art history and anthropology, it investigates a whole range of black African experience and representation across Renaissance Europe, from various types of slavery to black musicians and dancers, from real and symbolic Africans at court to the views of the Catholic Church, and from writers of African descent to Black African criminality. Their findings demonstrate the variety and complexity of black African life in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Europe, and how it was affected by firmly held preconceptions relating to the African continent and its inhabitants, reinforced by Renaissance ideas and conditions. Of enormous importance both for European and American history, this book mixes empirical material and theoretical approaches, and addresses such issues as stereotypes, changing black African identity, and cultural representation in art and literature.

Jan 18, 2007

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Jan 12, 2007

Guillaume Guillon Lethiere - Black French painter

In 1980, an unsigned painting acquired by the Rhode Island School of Design a few years earlier, was identified as the work of the once-popular French artist, Guillaume Guillon Lethiere who was born in 1760. Although such attributions are rarely newsworthy, what should have made this one more interesting to us as Americans than even the French themselves is information concerning Lethiere's ancestry that has only recently come to light.

Like Alexandre Dumas, the author of Man In The Iron Mask, Lethiere was a man of color. (I am hoping that the presence of this painting in Rhode Island will prove providential. For, RISD was founded by Providence's art community to celebrate the prize which one of their members - the African American Edward Bannister - won for landscape painting at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.)

Biographical material on Lethiere always mention he was the illegitimate son of a colonial official from the French West Indian island of Guadalupe. However, it was not until 1977, in a five-volume work on Ingres (who had been a student of his) that Lethiere's mother was described as a mulatto. Judging from the portraits Ingres did of him, however, she was probably more Caucasian - no doubt, a quadroon like so many of the mixed blood women of the French colonies whether here in New Orleans or des Antilles, whose sway over their white masters had almost become legendary by the end of the 18th century. Read about his life here.

Jan 11, 2007

Black Russian Nobility part 2

On his father' side Peter Ustinov is a member of the old Russian nobility. But on his mother's side, he is a member of the Ethiopian Royal Family. The origin of this interracial line was the marriage of his great grandfather, a Swiss military engineer, with the daughter of the Emperor Theodore II. Forbidden to leave Ethiopia, as were the most valued of the Europeans who joined the Imperial service, the engineer had been wedded to the princess, apparently not only in compensation, but to insure his loyalty to the Emperor.

The former Ethiopian legation to Canada, who were then working with the Department of MultiCultural Affairs in Quebec related how, on a number of occasions, they had requested Ustinov to represent Ethiopia to the media in the same way that he had Russia during the years of the cold war when he appeared to be the only cultural liaison between the Soviet Union and the West. Apparently because of the racial climate at the time, Ustinov had not been able to rise to the occasion. Indeed, in his first two autobiographies, he described his great grandmother as a Portuguese woman at the Ethiopian court. It was not until sometime later that he acknowledged his royal genealogy during a CBC Radio interview.

Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom

Jan 8, 2007

Black Russian Nobility

Although the vast majority of African Americans are unfamiliar with Pushkin's monumental works, most students of literature are at least aware of his "Blackamoor of Peter the Great," an unfinished romance which relates the biographical data of the poet's great-grandfather, Ibrahim Petrovitch Gannibal his black great-grandfather.

Some early critics wrongly suspected that Pushkin attempted to aggrandize the African lineage of this black forebear by playing up the family tradition that he was an Ethiopian princeling. However, Pushkin certainly did not need to embellish his ancestor's own personal history. For the accomplishments of Ibrahim Petrovitch Gannibal are proof of what any man - despite his colour - could rise to, given the opportunity. Ibrahim was treated as no less than a member of the royal family at court and, in the biographical notes on him written either by his wife or by someone in her family shortly after his death, the following statement is made:

"....he (Peter) wished to make examples of them and put (Russians) to shame by convincing them that out of every people and even from among wild men - such as Negores, whom our civilized nations assign exclusively to the class of slave, there can be formed men who by dint of application can obtain knowledge and learning and thus become helpful to their monarch." Read more about this Black Russian noble man.

Jan 6, 2007

Queen Charlotte

With features as conspicuously Negroid as they were reputed to be by her contemporaries, it is no wonder that the black community, both in the U.S. and throughout the British Commonwealth, have rallied around pictures of Queen Charlotte for generations. They have pointed out the physiological traits that so obviously identify the ethnic strain of the young woman who, at first glance, looks almost anomalous, portrayed as she usually is, in the sumptuous splendour of her coronation robes.

Queen Charlotte, wife of the English King George III (1738-1820), was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House. The riddle of Queen Charlotte's African ancestry was solved as a result of an earlier investigation into the black magi featured in 15th century Flemish paintings. Two art historians had suggested that the black magi must have been portraits of actual contemporary people (since the artist, without seeing them, would not have been aware of the subtleties in colouring and facial bone structure of quadroons or octoroons which these figures invariably represented) Enough evidence was accumulated to propose that the models for the black magi were, in all probability, members of the Portuguese de Sousa family. (Several de Sousas had in fact traveled to the Netherlands when their cousin, the Princess Isabella went there to marry the Grand Duke, Philip the Good of Burgundy in the year 1429.) Read more about England's black queen.

Jan 4, 2007

SIGILLUM SECRETUM Part III Sable

By Mario de Valdes y Cocom
Another reason for the black blazon of the imperial eagle is to be found in the rules and regulations governing the use of 'metals' and 'tinctures' in coat armour.
Following the classical Greek analysis of light and colour, black and white were considered the two primaries since the interplay between light and dark is what was held to produce the spectrum. Furthermore, white, or more accurately, light, was not defined as a colour or 'tincture' but as the gold or the silver which, to this day, are still the only options for the term 'metal' in the language of heraldry. Black, therefore, was considered the most important of colours, ranking above the red, blue and green standardly referred to as 'tinctures'.

Thirteenth century texts explaining the imperial insignia go even further. Because of medieval conceptions of the absorption of light by darkness, the writers theorized that within the color black was contained all the light or the white it had displaced.

This is obviously the reason why when the ruby is substituted for red or 'gules' and the emerald for green or 'vert' according to the traditions of gemnological blazonry, it is nothing other than the diamond that stands for 'sable'. In all probability, it is also this line of reasoning that contributed to the cult of the Black Madonna. For, having borne the Light of Creation within her very womb, the devotion to the Mother of God as the (coal) black Queen of Heaven is a superb example of how this law of physics was at one time interpreted.

Alessandro de Medici


Despite the many portraits of this 16th century Italian Renaissance figure, his African heritage is rarely, if ever, mentioned.[Editor's Note: For more on this omission as it has occurred in the art world, read this January 2005 update.]

Alessandro wielded great power as the first duke of Florence. He was the patron of some of the leading artists of the era and is one of the two Medici princes whose remains are buried in the famous tomb by Michaelangelo. The ethnic make up of this Medici Prince makes him the first black head of state in the modern western world.

Alessandro was born in 1510 to a black serving woman in the Medici household who, after her subsequent marriage to a muleteer, is simply referred to in existing documents as Simonetta da Collavechio. Historians today are convinced that Alessandro was fathered by the seventeen year old Cardinal Giulio de Medici who later became Pope Clement VII. Cardinal Giulio was the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Read more about the blackness in this family tree.

Jan 3, 2007

SIGILLUM SECRETUM Part II Divine Darkness

By Mario de Valdes y Cocom
In the middle of the 14th century, one of the most profound examples of the symbol of the blackamoor can be seen in the use of this image to represent Christ. It is clear from the documentation we have for the city of Lauingen in Germany, for example, that at about this time, the city's seal with the head of Christ wearing a crown of thorns is transformed to the head of a blackamoor wearing a golden crown. That the latter insignia is meant to represent the former is quite obvious from the accompanying inscriptions. One of the earlier ones read: "Sigillum civium de Lougingin" (seal of the city of Lauingen), while a later version clearly explains itself as the "Sigillum secretum civitatis palatinae Lavgingen (secret seal of the palatinate city of Lauingen)." Read the rest here.

Jan 2, 2007

SIGILLUM SECRETUM

By Mario de Valdes y Cocom
SIGILLUM SECRETUM (Secret Seal) On the image of the Blackamoor in European Heraldry(a preliminary proposal for an iconographical study)
byMario de Valdes y Cocom
Considering the deep roots of Christianity in the cultural experience of the African American community, it is only natural that even in the most cursory of discussions on Black history, the hope always is raised of discovering Christ as a man of colour. Moreover, in this global village of television and transatlantic travel, the standard Euro-centric portrayal of Christ is both anomalous and anachronistic, particularly in these racially sensitized times. It might therefore prove a great source of spiritual strength and psychological affirmation for those of us of African descent if a relatively unknown and forgotten medieval European tradition regarding the image of the black was reconstructed for all to see and share. What I am referring to are the coat of arms of the blackamoor which proliferated in both the private and civic European escutcheons (coat of arms) throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Read this fascinating history here.

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