In the early modern period, especially once the threat posed by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire was diminished, it became fashionable for German courts to have “exotic” Black or Turkish servants. Many such servants were acquired as slaves and passed around as part of the gift economy that linked courts across Europe. Most occupied lower and middling positions and were integrated into the life of the courtly household, while some were able to take advantage of the unique opportunities available within these courts and rose to positions of considerable prominence and respect.
In this portrait of a gathering in the Drap d’Or Chamber of the Berlin City Palace, pride of place is given to Frederick I and his wife Sophie Luise, seated in the center, but it is noteworthy that three Black men and a lighter-skinned man in a Turkish turban are visible serving the drinks and lighting the guests’ pipes.
Source: Paul Carl Leygebe, Tabakskollegium of Frederick I (1709-1710), Wikimedia Commons.
King Frederick I’s smoking party (1709-1710) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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