The black man as heathen warrior (ca. 1390s)

By the fourteenth century, European Christians had long had direct contacts with Muslims of the Holy Land and North Africa. Some of these contacts were in fact peaceful, but in many contexts, from the Muslim expansion and conquests from the seventh century and the Christian Crusades in the Middle Holy Land from the eleventh century, they were often very violent. These were lands with a diverse range of inhabitants, and European artists gradually came to incorporate that diversity into their depictions. In representations of conflict, as here in the Wenzel Bible, black figures represented real-life encounters with people with darker skin, but these figures could also serve symbolically to demonize the enemies of Christianity. Drawing on a long pejorative association of blackness with sinfulness and evil, the grotesque black figure here offers a distinctive marker of the enemy’s depravity that stood in stark contrast to more positive contemporary depictions.

Jeff Bowersox


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Source: Biblia germanica regis Wenceslai V. Bohemiae iussu scripta (Wenzelsbibel) (ca. 1390s), Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Vienna, Cod. 2762 Han.

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