BBC – How black women were whitewashed by art

BBC – Culture – How black women were whitewashed by art
bbc - culture - how black women were whitewashed by art

Anyone who watched either of the two Clash of the Titans films will know that Judi Bowker and Alexa Devalos are both white women, and anyone who has seen Andromeda in a painting – perhaps Titian’s or Poynter’s – will believe she is white too. But McGrath’s article was definitive in addressing three things: that all the Greek mythographers placed Andromeda as a princess of Ethiopia, that Ovid specifically refers to her dark skin and that artists throughout Western art history frequently omitted to depict her blackness because Andromeda was supposed to be beautiful, and blackness and beauty – for many of them – was dichotomous. There is no doubt about Andromena’s race, according to Professor McGrath. “It’s as clear as mud,” the historian tells BBC Culture, almost three decades after the publication of her article.

Yet Renaissance art repeatedly depicts Andromeda as white…

…So [he] was shocked to discover that many paintings of the Old Testament’s visitor to King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba – another word for Saba – depicted her as a white woman. He references Claude Lorrain’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, hanging in London’s National Gallery. “She’s shown in detail at the edge of the painting, but she’s white. But the Queen of Sheba I knew came from Saba that was in Ethiopia, and the black king was from Saba. So the Queen of Sheba had to be black in my mind.”

[The Renaissance saw a whitewashing and sexualisation of the Queen of Sheba]

All it takes is a few minutes of searching ‘Queen of Sheba painting’ on Google Images to see a litany of reclining, exoticised white women glancing languorously either at the viewer or King Solomon…

…By the time this makes it into the 405 AD translation into Latin Vulgate, ‘and’ becomes ‘but’; “I am black but beautiful.” In England, the 1611 publication of the King James Bible changed it even further: “I am black but comely.” The racist attitudes that diminished and hypersexualised black women are obvious. Perhaps it’s this phrase, rather than any painting, that has been the most destructive of them all…

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Read more on this subject:
The Black Andromeda
Elizabeth McGrath

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