Modernity is not just about *how things are represented; it is also crucially about *who is represented; and of course, *by whom. 


 

Image 1: no, not a long-lost Kehinde Wiley; the Emissary of Congo, Don Miguel de Castro, painted in Brazil by Jaspar Beckx, ca 1643.

Image 2: no, not a long-lost Kehinde Wiley: Portrait of an African Man painted by Jan Jansz. Mostaert c. 1525-30.

Beckx was brought to Brazil in the 1630's by the Dutch governor to produce what we would call naturalist and anthropological documentation.  

Mostaert was active a century earlier at the court of  Margaret of Austria, in Mechelen, near Antwerp. Not much more is known about the sitter, but he is dressed as a gentleman courtier. The badge in his hat id's him as a baptized Christian.

So - what is going on here? Well, re the Emissary, "Between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the west central African kingdom of Kongo practiced Christianity and actively participated in the Atlantic world as an independent, cosmopolitan realm." (Wikipedia). Kongo sent ambassadors to European courts, and people of color were now, for the first time, in sight of Western European artists, and their patrons.

The Renaissance portrait is an outlier; whereas Beckx's portrait is a harbinger of things to come. The 17th c. is the age of scientific discovery: folks all over Europe, especially Northern Europe, are voyaging (and colonizing, and enslaving); and also beginning to look at the world from a new, empirical, observational, rational, mathematical – scientific – perpective.  Artists were front-line enlistees in this wave of fledgling scientific exploration and observation; and with them, the representation of otherness made its first entrances in Western art.