ORIGIN : ITALY, VENICE
PERIOD : 17th CENTURY
Height : 53 cm
Length : 50 cm
Original iron suspension hook.
From the Middle-Ages to the twentieth century, streets of Europe were punctuated by the merchants’ calls and by their shop signs hanging over the road for the strollers to look at. Those signs were made from wood or metal and presented a great variety of forms evoking the shop’s name or the merchant’s trade in a literal or humorous way. This system of physical occupation of the urban visual space allowed shops to mark the passerbys, to win customers and to assert their reputation. The leverage of these shop signs was such that nowadays some streets bear a name evoking a shop sign long gone.
Our pair of shop signs depict the bust of a black man. It reminds us that from the 16th century onward trade between Europe and Africa intensified remarkably. The subject of the African man was already present in Middle Ages’ art but during the 16th and 17th century it regained a new favour stretching from painting and sculpture to literature (Shakespeare’s Othello in 1604). However, black persons are not only seen through works of art they could also live in town. Servants coming from Africa were a potent expression of the means of the employer’s family. Soon the African man embodies a whole thriving economic system. He evokes products and goods coming from remote places – Africa, Asia, America – rare and expensive.
With the colonisation expanding and the slavery growing black persons are depicted in an exagerated way. Faces with grotesque features – such as our bust’s wide nose and thick lips – expresses booming racialists and rascists theories. The sailor’s outfit refers for its part to the maritime dimension of the trade between the two continents. Undoubtedly our shop signs were located on an upscale shop’s front. Perhaps this boutique sold foreign luxury goods such as coffee, chocolate or fabrics, perfectly personified by those two overseas ambassadors.
Beside their striking plastic quality and their vivid polychromy those two busts of Moors are also a precious testimony of a society especially fond of distant land’s evocations.
18 000 €