Black nobility in Europe? According to black Dutch researcher Egmond Codfried and author of the book "Belle van Zuylen's forgotten grandmother" there was black nobility in Europe, but there history and images were later carefully tucked away. His claims are controversial, and of course not accepted by European historians and the man in the street.
Codfried has systematically studied hundreds of paintings of famous and less famous nobility. He regularly stumbled upon people who looked black or coloured, or although they were white, clearly had African facial features.
About his work he writes: “This study of historical sources and literature on black and coloured historic persons was inspired by the chance finding of a portrait of Maria Jacoba van Goor (portraited in the picture). We get a view of the problems and of the methods to identify these Europeans. This beautiful painting was also a reason to cast an afrocentric view at Belle van Zuylens life and her works, the biographies en the origin of her financial fortune. Through her coloured grandmother, the Dutch Belle van Zuylen (1740-1805) also known as Madame de Charrière, joins the rank of writers as the Russian Alexander Pushkin, the French Alexander Dumas and Colette, the Britons Elizabeth Barrett and her husband Robert Browning. As well as the German classic composer Ludwig von Beethoven and Queen Charlotte of Britain. These are Europeans of great merit, who had black forefathers. Also we find that Belle was a friend of Pierre Alexander Du Peyrou (1729-1794), a brown coloured and wealthy Surinam plantation owner in Swiss. He is renowned as a close friend, benefactor and publisher of the most famous philosopher of the Enlightenment, Jean Jaques Rousseau.
The reason why he studies nobility has to with the fact that nobility has left traces in the form of portraits and writings.
Some of his claims
Queen Charlotte Sophie of Mecklenburg Strelitz (1744-1818), Wife of George III
Described by others in her time as 'a true mulatto face' , ' brown' or ' yellow.' Her nose is to wide and her mouth shows the same fault.
Maurits Huygens (painted by Rembrandt in 1632) the older brother of Constantijn Huygens. Constantijn was one the most famous poets in the Golden Century.
The way black people were portraited
A painting of the French-Swiss painter Liotard (1702-1789) "Portrait of a young woman". Liotard is also considered coloured by Codfried.
A Moor by Juriaen of Streeck (1619-1673). Most people do not realize how many pictures exist of Moors in Europe. Why the love of Moors? Names, family crests, geographical indications, all references to the Moor, according to Codfried.
On the forum someone writes, that this is a picture of a servant.
As a response Codfried writes: "Part of the Moritzburg Treasure (Renaissance), , with a gold and silver cup in the form of a Moor's head, which was used at high nobilty marriages. Why Moor's head? The Moor was apparently in high regard."
PORTRAIT OF AN AFRICAN MAN January Mostaert (ca.1474-Haarlem Haarlem 1552/1553) Ca. 1520-1530. A unique 16th-century portrait
A painting of a black African in European clothing - with sword - portrayed as a Habsburg-Burgondian nobleman from that period. The self-conscious attitude, clothes and rich attributes demonstrate a successful assimilation of this man within the cultural norms of the European Renaissance. (Research lab Black is beautiful Dutch)
But, the research lab also writes, black Africans were in the 16th-century Europe rarely people of distinction. Most of them were imported as slaves in Spain and Portugal. A small number of them were released over the years, but most were employed as servant to their master. Only the Congo, which in the late 15th century was Christianized by the Portuguese, had a special status as a black kingdom of which the elite was educated in Portugal. Some Congolese made it as scholar, clerk, musician and jester quite far. Most remained employed in subordinate occupations. In the Netherlands, where the slave status was not recognized, negroes usually came along as servants of Spanish and Portuguese traders.
But why is it so important to show that black or coloured people were part of the European nobility? Codfried's motivation is to show that Europe was never as 'white' as we have been taught. Black people were always in Europe, even among the European nobility.
Looking at the portraits of those 16th and 17the century black people in Europe, I wonder what they would think of us now.
Pictures of nobility
Black nobility tucked away (Dutch) – an interesting article with pictures
Blue Blood Is Black Blood
Update: Also read: First black head of a European state: Alessandro de Medici (Italy)