The emperor’s retinue (1194)

The Swabian Hohenstaufen dynasty ruled as Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of Sicily in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their Mediterranean connections were important for introducing to Italy and the German lands a new, positive representation of blackness that departed from the prevailing use of blackness to represent demonic and sinful natures often associated with Islam. Emperor Henry VI (1165-1197), son of Frederick Barbarossa, hoped to expand his kingdom southward by conquering Sicily and joining it to the Holy Roman Empire. He succeeded in the former, being crowned King of Sicily in 1194, but failed to consolidate his holdings before his early death. But in his efforts to legitimize himself as King of Sicily, an island that had long served as a crossroads of the Mediterranean and had been ruled by Muslims for the previous two centuries, he adopted the local tradition of surrounding himself with a cosmopolitan retinue. We can see this illustrated in this depiction of Henry VI’s triumphal entry into Palermo, heralded by dark-skinned trumpeters.

Henry VI

Source: Pietro da Eboli, Liber ad honorem Augusti (1195-1197), Burgerbibliothek Bern, Cod. 120.II, f. 134r.