Blackamoor (decorative arts)

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Blackamoor is a type of figure in European decorative art from the Early Modern period, depicting a black man. Common examples of items and objects decorated in the blackamoor style include sculpture, jewellery, and furniture. Typically the sculpted figures carried something, such as candles or a tray. They were thus an exotic and lightweight variant for the "atlas" in architecture and decorative arts, especially popular in the Rococo period.

Pair of Italian figures in painted wood, 18th century
"Moor with Emerald Cluster" by Balthasar Permoser in the collection of the Grünes Gewölbe

The term "blackamoor" or "black moor" was once a general term for black people in English, "formerly without depreciatory force" as the OED puts it.[1] The style is now viewed by some as racist and culturally insensitive.[2] However, blackamoor pieces are still widely produced, mainly in Venice, Italy.[citation needed]

Jewelry and decorative artsEdit

In jewelry, blackamoor figures usually appear in antique Venetian earrings, bracelets, cuff links, and brooches. Blackamoor jewelry is also traditionally produced, based on legend found in Rijeka, such as earrings and brooches under the name Morčić.

Some contemporary craftspeople continue to make individual pieces; however, production of blackamoor jewelry is increasingly rare, due to the decorative style increasingly being viewed as problematic and offensive for its depiction of dark-skinned people as "exotic" and decorative.

Blackamoor figures are typically male, depicted with a head covering, usually a turban, and covered in rich jewels and gold leaf. Sculptures are typically carved from ebony, or painted black to contrast with the bright colors of the embellishments. Depictions may only represent the head, or head and shoulders, facing the viewer in a symmetrical pose.

In decorative sculpture, the full body is depicted, either to hold trays as a servant figure, or bronze sconces to hold candles or light fixtures. They may be incorporated into small stands, tables, or andirons, and are often portrayed in pairs. Often, blackamoor figures are depicted in acrobatic positions that would be physically impossible to hold for any extended length of time. Notable sculptors of blackamoor figures include Andrea Brustolon (1662–1732), who is considered by some[who?] to be the most important artist of blackamoor sculptures.


One example of a blackamoor in the arts is the Mohr mit Smaragdstufe ("Moor with Emerald Cluster"), in the collection of the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, Germany, created by Balthasar Permoser in 1724. The statue is richly decorated with jewels and is 63.8 cm (2.09 ft) high.

Aleksandr Pushkin had a blackamoor figurine on his desk to remind him of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, his great-grandfather. This figure can be seen in his former St. Petersburg apartment, now turned into a museum.[citation needed]

Diana Vreeland had a famous collection of blackamoor jewelry, and Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters has some blackamoor pieces in her extensive collection of black memorabilia.[citation needed]


The Scottish crest badge of Clan MacLellan featuring the head of Black Morrow.
The flag of Sardinia, including four "Maure" motifs, or Moors' heads.

In heraldry, a blackamoor may be a charge in the blazon, or description of a coat of arms. The isolated head of a moor is blazoned "a Maure" or a "moor's head".

The reasons for the inclusion of a blackamoor head vary. The Moor's head on the crest that appears on the arms of Lord Kirkcudbright, and in consequence the modern crest badge used by Clan MacLellan is supposed to derive from the killing of a moorish bandit known as Black Morrow.[3] The blazon is a naked arm supporting on the point of a sword, a moor's head.[4] Other examples appear to depict captives; the flag of Sardinia and the neighboring Corsica, derived from the coat of arms of Aragon, depict Maures' heads with blindfolds.


A typical blackamoor sculpture in a servant role, "holding" Morianbron (Blackamoor Bridge) in Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden.

Blackamoor figures were also used in larger sculptures, such as on Blackamoor Bridge in Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden.

Fred Wilson,[5] an African-American sculptor, displayed an installation at the 2003 Venice Biennale that incorporated blackamoors.[6] Wilson placed wooden blackamoors carrying acetylene torches and fire extinguishers. Wilson noted that such figures are so common in Venice, few people notice them. He said, "They are in hotels everywhere in Venice ... which is great, because all of a sudden you see them everywhere. I wanted it to be visible, this whole world which sort of just blew up for me."[6]


Blackamoors have a long history in decorative art, stretching all the way back to 17th century Italy and the famous sculptor Andrea Brustolon (1662–1732). They are often recognized for depictions of slaves and the ornamental pieces that they inspired.

In modern times, the blackamoor is considered to have racist connotations, with its association to colonialism and slavery.[2] Art historian Adrienne Childs criticised the "romanticised" depictions and interpretations of blackamoor pieces, arguing that the depictions of black people in the blackamoor style obscured and made palatable the existence of slaves in the colonies, and evidenced "a culture that marginalised and dominated blacks".[7][8][9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "blackamoor", OED. The form with the connecting "a", whose origin is unclear, was first recorded in 1581, as "black a Moore".
  2. ^ a b Bethan Holt (22 December 2017). "Princess Michael of Kent prompts controversy after wearing 'racist' 'blackamoor' brooch to lunch with Meghan Markle". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  3. ^ "MacLellan". Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  4. ^ "Mac Lellan". Archived from the original on 18 March 2008. Retrieved 22 August 2008.
  5. ^ "Fred Wilson biography". Retrieved 2013-10-19.
  6. ^ a b Hoban, Phoebe (2003-07-28). "The Shock of the Familiar, New York Metro, 2003". Retrieved 2013-10-19.
  7. ^ Adrienne L. Childs (2010). "8". In Cavanaugh, Alden; Yonan, Michael E. (eds.). The Cultural Aesthetics of Eighteenth-Century Porcelain. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0754663867.
  8. ^ Bazilian, Emma (28 August 2020). "There's No Excuse for Buying or Decorating With Blackamoors". House Beautiful. Archived from the original on 9 February 2021. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  9. ^ Symington, Emily (29 August 2020). "Racist Porcelain: The Trend of the "Blackamoor" in Europe". Varsity. Archived from the original on 9 February 2021. Retrieved 20 April 2021.

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