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#58 Black Africans in Italian Renaissance Art: A Conversation with Prof. Jonathan Nelson

Saturday, February 25th on Zoom

10am Los Angeles, 11am Phoenix, 1pm NY & Toronto, 6pm London, 7pm Florence

How many people have noticed and reflected on the two Black men in Botticelli’s Sistine Chapel fresco depicting the Youth of Moses? Until they were discussed in an obscure journal by a specialist on Ethiopia, art historians nearly always overlooked these prominent figures. On the altar wall of the same chapel, Black figures also appear in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. Black Africans appear regularly in Italian Renaissance paintings, but until quite recently, they remained largely unexamined by scholars. Several recent studies focus on paintings and sculptures showing Black people as servants, thus reflecting the presence of African slaves in Italy. Many works, however, including those by Botticelli and Michelangelo, also depict and even celebrate Christian Africans. The strategies used by artists to depict Black figures can provide keys to better understanding specific works and the society that produced them.

Jonathan Nelson is a Teaching Professor at Syracuse University, Florence; Research Associate at the Kennedy School of Harvard University; and co-editor of the “Elements in Renaissance” series of Cambridge University Press. A specialist on Filippino Lippi, the subject of a 2022 monograph, he recently wrote a major article on Ethiopian Christians in the paintings of Filippino and his contemporaries. He was the lead speaker and advisor on the December 2022 documentary on SkyTV, “The Black Italian Renaissance”. Professor Nelson has also written volumes dedicated to Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Sister Plautilla Nelli, and Robert Mapplethorpe. His forthcoming book, co-authored with Economist Richard Zeckhauser, explores Risks in Renaissance Art: Production, Purchase, and Reception (Cambridge University Press, 2023)


Minimum suggested donation: $20

This talk is free for Friends of Paola's Studiolo!

Look forward to seeing you on Zoom!

Warmest regards,


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