Showing that people of African ancestry in Renaissance Europe was not limited to slaves and servants. The Medici examples are a bit debated, as no-one really knows who duke Alessando de’ Medici’s mother was. But already in his life time she was said to be a Moor (North African, or Muslim Spanish). Giulia de’ Medici was Alessandro’s daughter.
“Landscape with an episode from the Conquest of America”, 1535, Jan Mostaert (1475-1555), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
I saw this in the Rijksmuseum in July, very soon after that magnificent place’s reopening, and also soon after the acquisition of this Middle Ages masterpiece.
It depicts the disruption of an “idyllic” native life in “America” by violent Spanish invaders. It is unusual for its time for its clear sympathy for the Indigenous peoples, even though they are not depicted, er, at all accurately. For a start, they weren’t white, and they did not hang around in the nude.
The title of this work is certainly very enticing, but the image doesn’t quite live up the title’s spicy promise. The scene shows three men, probably shepherds (or maybe itinerant beggars; their staffs and bowls could indicate either profession), in a state of undress and idling on a wooded hill. Their dog sits nearby, scratching himself.
The Sadeler family, of which Jan I was a prominent member, was the largest and most successful of the dynasties of Flemish engravers that were dominant in Northern European printmaking in the 16th and 17th centuries, as both artists and publishers. (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadeler_family.) I’m not sure which painting by Gillis Mostaert Sadeler used as the inspiration for this engraving.
The Latin verse below the scene is attributed to the 16th-century jurist and writer Andrea Alciato. He is most famous for his Emblemata, published in dozens of editions from 1531 onward. The collection of short Latin verse texts and accompanying woodcuts created an entire genre, the emblem book, which attained enormous popularity in continental Europe and Great Britain. (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Alciato.)
The verse is:
Quisquis iners abeat. Nam in choenice figere sedem, Nos prohibent Samii dogmata sancta senis. Surge igitur, duroque manus adsuesce labori, Det tibi dimensos crastina ut hora cibos.
Let the idle man take himself off —the holy pronouncements of the old sage of Samos [Pythagoras] forbid us to sit tight on the bushel-box. Get up therefore, get your hands accustomed to hard work, so that tomorrow’s hour may give you your due measure of sustenance.
The saying, a proverbial expression of idleness, is quoted in various ancient sources. A bushel was a day’s ration of corn, and “to sit on the bushel-box” (a container holding a bushel measure, and convenient in size for sitting on) meant to be idle and improvident, leaving tomorrow to take care of itself, since today was provided for. (Alciato at Glasgow, http://tinyurl.com/lwy728r.)
In this image, the dog is an embodiment of laziness—rather than doing anything useful or productive, he’s just sitting around and scratching fleas. Still, this cute little spaniel no doubt had a busy afternoon of rummaging around in the underbrush, taking stock of all the good smells and chasing squirrels. He deserves a rest!
I believe that the didactic message of this image and verse is not particularly relevant to modern American society; we all spend too much time at work and not enough time enjoying life. So on this Friday (a lovely one here in Washington, D.C.) , we should all follow the example of the men and the Very Good Dog in this engraving and make time for a little idleness. Clothes optional!
Gillis Mostaert (1528–1598): A village scene with peasants
eating and drinking, a church tower in the background, oil on panel, date
unknown, 83.9 x 118.7 cm, private collection, source: mutualart.com.