Art Museum’s Newest Painting Highlights Black Presence in Early 1800s Europe | Columnists

Join the Saint Louis Art Museum in celebrating a recent acquisition titled Domenica delle Cascine, the Cecca of Pratolinoand Pietro Moroby the Flemish artist Justus Suttermans to see in gallery 236. This superb painting presents Pietro Moro, (Peter the Black), a black servant alongside two European servants. As one of the few representations of a named black figure in European art before the 1800s, Suttermans’ portrait joins Melchior Barthel, Bust of a black man, in the same period collection. These acquisitions are part of the Museum’s initiative to increase its representation of a black non-white presence in Western European art.

The painting, acquired in early 2021, is the second version of this artwork along with the painting’s companion located in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Like too much ancient history, very little is known about Pietro Moro. However, an individual with the term Moro was historically used as a designation for dark skin or African descent. Moro was recorded as part of the Medici family’s inventories as well as in their books of account for payments made to him. There are also two other surviving depictions of Moro suggesting that he was held in high esteem within the Medici house.

In the Museum painting on display in Gallery 236, Pietro Moro stands out as the main subject of the portrait, engaging with the viewer through his eyes and his pose. The viewer sees Moro holding her hand in a gesture that would have been considered humorous in 17th century Florentine society as he searches for something in one of the women’s baskets, further adding to the engagement with the viewer. The portrait is said to have traveled with the Medici family and was displayed as a form of entertainment for the court as they indulged in the humor displayed in the image.

Moro is depicted with two servant girls, Domenica delle Cascine and Cecca di Pratolino, giving viewers a rare view of individuals outside of the nobility during the 1600s in Florentine Italy. This work is a classic display of artist Justus Suttermans’ attention to detail, given the monumental status of the painting’s three servants. Suttermans was one of the official court painters in Medici circles. The three stand full of expression with the two older women depicted with wrinkles and shining eyes with thick fabric crumpled by movement, the central figure’s red dress brings a touch of color to the portrait. In contrast, Moro has smooth, youthful skin and has two pearl earrings and a beautiful striped dress that stands out in the light.

This new acquisition joins two other portraits from the vast Medici collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum; Portrait of a lady, probably Camilla Martelli de’Medici by Alessandro Allori, and Francesco Salviati Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman. This new painting continues the mission of the Saint Louis Art Museum to collect, present, interpret and preserve the highest quality works of art across time and cultures; educates, inspires discovery and uplifts the human spirit. Please come see this amazing new acquisition, Domenica delle Cascine, the Cecca di Pratolino, and Pietro Morovisible in Gallery 236.

Delyn Stephenson is Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Scholar, 2022.

About Catharine C. Bean

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