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Denise Yaques
Phillip Wisser
Alba Olivas
Roger Rodriguez
Javier Pla

In 1508, during the period of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Albrecht Durer sketched a picture of an anonomous black man. The status of the black man is unknown to us today. By researching the routes of the Trans Atlantic Slave trade, one can speculate about the position of this man. By thoroughly analyzing Durer's sketch, Head of a Negro, we could learn about the man's physical appearance as well as Durer's artistic style.

The man drawn in the picture is looking off to his right. He has an oval shaped head. His very curly hair covers his head as well as his chin and upper lip. One eyebrow appears to be longer than the other. His left eye is slightly lower than his right eye. He has full lips and a wide nose. The shadows on his face and neck show his cheek bones and the form of his larynx. He appears to be dressed in rags of clothing.

This picture takes up space the same way a sculpture does. Durer's principal light comes from the right, above, and in front. The highlight on the head completely smothers the dark of the eyebrow. The neck is like a column, an architectural unit. While creating this picture, Durer was faced with a problem. To solve this problem, Durer created a kind of cylinder, rounded on top. The end creation was a drawing that holds many mysteries.

This picture strikes up many questions. One of these, which is very important, would be "is this man in the picture a slave or a free man?" Another question that would be asked would be "where did Durer see this man?" Was it when he went to Italy, to Venice to meet Giovanni Bellini (Western World),  or when he was in his homeland of Germany? Although, by looking at the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, we might make speculations about these questions, nobody will really ever know the truth to these questions. Yet, in his journal, Durer mentions an encounter with an African woman in Antwerp, in the house of the Portugese trade commissioner.  This meeting was the subject of his Negress of Brandon. (Locke, p. 139)  Unfortunately, this meeting occurred in 1521, and that is thirteen years after the subject of our inquiry. During this period in time, much of the transporting was done by sea. This raises the question, if Durer spent most of his life in Germany (which has no ports), where did he see this black man? One answer might be that on his trip to Italy (which has ports), Durer saw this man while he was being transported as a slave.  Durer, by 1521, had an encounter with a slave in Antwerp.  Another answer might be that this man was not a slave at all, and Durer saw him in either his homeland of Germany or in Italy. By looking at certain events in history we have tried to answer our own questions.

The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was a triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas. When looking at these four continents, if you were to draw lines connecting them, two triangular shapes would appear. These triangles were ship routes to import and export slaves. This process started off in Africa where the slaves were captured and then sent to the Americas. The European side of the triangle was economic, in that they prospered from the slave trade. Whenever the slaves produced any goods, they were immediately sent to Europe. Also, if Europe was ever in need of slaves, they were sent on demand. Some of the Europeans of African descent living there today are descendents of those slaves.

Not much was known about the man in Head of a Negro. We have had to look at certain events, like the artist's visit to Venice, and then Antwerp,  to try to see where Durer met this man.  We attempted to speculate by looking into history whether or not this man was a slave or a free man.  He remains a mystery.


Works Cited

Art of the Western World: The Early Renaissance. VHS. 1989.

Locke, Alain, ed. The Negro In Art.  New York:  Hacker Art Books, 1971.


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Durer's Head of a Negro
Head of a Negro
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