museumofmodernerotica asked: Maybe this is a crazy question, but how did Europeans know what Africans looked like? I know that some of the paintings here are of North Africans/Middle Easterners, but others clearly depict people born south of the Sahara. I've heard of Prester John but I never imagined that medieval Europeans were aware that Prester John would have had brown skin. Am I missing something?
Like. There are a lot of things I could say here. But I’m just going to do my best to answer your question, and the answer is either very simple or very complicated, depending on your current point of view.
1. “They” knew what people with brown skin looked like because people with brown skin had been there literally THE ENTIRE TIME. Some (and father back, ALL) of “them” had brown skin themselves.
2. “People with Brown Skin” and “Europeans” are not separate and mutually exclusive groups.
3. No matter how far back you go, the mythical time that you’re looking for, when all-white, racially and culturally isolated Europe was “real”, will continue to recede from your grasp until it winkles out the like imaginary place it is.
We can just keep going back. In every area, from all walks of life, rich and poor, kings and peasants, artists and iconoclasts, before there were countries and continents, before there were white people.
Switzerland, c. 1800:
Scotland, England, France, 1280s:
Greece, c. 1000:
Throughout Europe, 800s-500s:
England, c. 300 AD:
Scotland, c. 100 AD:
Italy, 79 AD:
Greece, 170 B.C.:
Greece, 300 B. C.:
Greece, 400s B.C.
Greece, 500s B.C.:
Egypt, 1200s B.C.:
Crete (Minoan), 1600 B.C.:
Crete (Minoan), early 2000s B.C.:
Romania, 34,000 B.C.:
The time when “EVERYONE” in Europe was White does not exist. They knew what people with brown skin looked like because they were there. They knew what “Africans” looked like because they were there, and they weren’t “they”, they were us, or you. I think what you’re missing is something that never existed.
I’m astonished at the level of restraint the blogger is showing here. Here’s a blog that documents with paintings that people of color existed in all walks of life throughout medieval and classical Europe, and someone still manages to come along and ask, “But how did the painters know what these mysterious and exotic people from far-off lands looked like?”
I *could* have just said
But who knows, I thought maybe some people could understand better if I went century-by-century….? Maybe this can be someone’s “ohhhhhh” moment.
I’m always looking for new ways to say the same thing, I guess…..
I still clearly remember being in Europe touring some castle when I was like 10 or so, and seeing a black noble woman depicted. It blew my mind. I truly think part of the problem is that, for many kids, the only books they read are in school. So if the textbooks don’t show black people in Europe, then despite any brief (and it was always brief) mention of Moors, it just doesn’t occur to folks, not even just white folks, anybody. Pictures likes these are so important, as are pictures of black engineers, animators, scientists, etc.
Do you remember any details about which castle it might have been, or which noblewoman you saw?
Also, dang I wish I could have toured Europe when I was 10. Or ever.