Anthony Van Dyck and the trope of the black attendant
Van Haute, Bernadette
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This article examines Van Dyck’s use of the motif of the African attendant in his extant oeuvre in order to establish patterns and strategies of representation of the racial other. It reveals the artist’s paternalistic interpretation of a trope that was aesthetically informed by examples set by Titian and Rubens but adapted to the tastes of his patrons as determined by the fashion of the time and place. By considering the iconography in conjunction with the reception of the works I disclose the varying connotations of the motif demonstrating the artist’s wit in developing early visual forms of racial humour. These unique adaptations expose Van Dyck’s use of ridicule as a pattern of paternalism rooted in his social ambitions and Christian convictions yet always subject to the conditions of display. The value of this research lies in its contribution both to Van Dyck scholarship and to the history of race and racism in early modern Western Europe.