Black Africans as ‘Domestic Enemies’ in Late Italian Renaissance Narrative Painting
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This dissertation investigates the role of black African slaves and servants in relation to Italian Renaissance anxieties about them as ‘domestic enemies.’ Three case studies form the basis of this investigation, and include late Renaissance paintings of Judith and Holofernes, the Rape of Lucretia, and Bathsheba at her Bath. Virtually none of the biblical or classical textual accounts of these subjects ascribes an ethnicity to the servile figures. Artists, by depicting black African men, women and children as participants in scenes of threatened or enacted sexual violence, added tension to the iconography. To uncover contemporary cultural attitudes about domestic slaves and servants, documents and textual sources, such as poems and short stories, are examined. These sources provide insight about the types of fears and prejudices that people had about black domestics as potentially insidious, or even nefarious. By including such figures in their paintings, artists were able to exploit the contemporary fascination that people had with the potentially threatening nature of black slaves and servants, thereby adding a degree of titillation to their artworks. The presence of black Africans in narrative paintings evoked deeply ambivalent attitudes about these figures as both faithful and potentially threatening.