Reclaiming the Black Body in European Art

Instructors: Prof. Aaron Slodounik
Fridays, 10:00 – 12:40 PM
Macaulay Honors College, Online
Course Code: MHC 381

In their book, Blacks and Blackness in European Art of the Long Nineteenth Century, art historians Adrienne L. Childs and Susan H. Libby write that in contrast to the “over-simplified and unabashedly racist caricatures often found in American visual culture … blacks in nineteenth-century European art were frequently depicted as exotic, beautiful, romantic, and alluring.” This class will examine the growing scholarship on representations of black bodies in European art during the 18th and 19th centuries. We will also investigate, when possible, the actual lives of black Europeans during this period. The class will study how white Europeans depicted black bodies as a way to define their own racial identity. Although the images Childs and Libby describe are intriguing, these depictions still represent racist ideas about the superiority of white bodies. In addition, we will examine how artists of color from the United States traveled to Europe to seek training and created works that were radical because they argued for the humanity of the black body. This course is designed for students majoring in all disciplines who seek to better understand how bodily imagery is racialized and historical strategies of resistance. Students in the course will be encouraged to make connections to their personal and professional lives.

(Image: Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Triosson (French, 1767–1824). Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley, 1797. Oil on canvas; 159 x 111 cm (62.5 x 43.7 in). Versailles: Musée du Château, MV 4616. Source: Ministère de la Culture)