August 8, 2022


Make Somone Happy

A History of Slavery in Art and Artifacts

4 min read

Art fans who glimpse again on 17th-century Holland as a golden age, major-heavy with Rembrandts and Vermeers, are about to have their historic eyesight corrected. Next thirty day period, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum—the countrywide gallery of the Netherlands and the greatest depository of Dutch masterpieces—will just take a probing seem at a a lot more sinister facet of the country’s past in a new exhibition, “Slavery: 10 Accurate Stories.”

The clearly show draws on the Rijksmuseum’s collection of historic objects and artwork treasures, alongside with objects and archival resources on bank loan from four continents, to present 10 biographical narratives from the 17th to the 19th century. They involve “the enslaved, the enslavers and those who resisted,” claims Valika Smeulders, head of background at the museum and one of the show’s curators. The Rijksmuseum is at present shut thanks to a countrywide pandemic lockdown, in put until eventually at the very least Feb. 9 “Slavery” is scheduled to open on Feb. 12. The museum will provide a thorough on line information for digital site visitors.

Pepijn Brandon, assistant professor of history at Amsterdam’s No cost University, claims that “the Dutch ended up a person of the key slave buying and selling nations of Europe.” All through their 17th-century golden age, the Dutch dominated worldwide trade routes, allowing them to transport enslaved men and women to the Dutch colonies in the Americas and Asia, as properly as new commodities that depended on slave labor, these kinds of as sugar, nutmeg and tobacco.

A gilt box depicting scenes of the slave trade, 1749.


Courtesy Rijksmuseum Museum

A person of the 10 subjects in “Slavery” is

João Mina,

an enslaved African who appears in the historic report for the reason that he was topic to an formal interrogation in Dutch Brazil in 1646. No visible depiction of him survives, but the curators convey his existence into emphasis with 17th-century documents and artworks, including a drawing of the Dutch fort of Elmina, on the coastline of Ghana, which was a vital stopover for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The curators feel that Mina’s previous name indicates he was sold into slavery there. There are also horrific instruments of slavery, these kinds of as wooden leg cuffs built to shackle several folks at once.

In contrast to their Atlantic rivals, this kind of as the Portuguese and later on the British and French, “the Dutch were being also major slave traders in Asia,” states Dr. Brandon. “Slavery” tells the story of

Angela van Bengalen,

a native Bengali who was bought as a slave in Africa’s Dutch-controlled Cape Colony. She was later on emancipated and died a rich freewoman in Cape City the exhibit consists of her 1720 will.

While possessing slaves was officially unlawful back again house in the Netherlands, wealthy 17th-century people usually experienced African servants who existed on a perilous continuum amongst slavery and flexibility, says Dr. Brandon. 1 product in the Rijksmuseum clearly show, on mortgage from the U.K.’s Royal Assortment, is a 1701 bust of a Black guy by Flemish sculptor

John Nost

the Elder, which is considered to depict a beloved servant of the Dutch-born English king,

William III.

The figure is demonstrated in a grand costume, but he is also sporting a exclusive collar that marked his status “as a possession,” claims Dr. Smeulders.

Leg cuffs and shackles for chaining enslaved people, ca. 1600-1800.


Courtesy Rijksmuseum Museum

At the Rijksmuseum, people will see a show of bells from plantations and farms in Dutch-managed regions about the globe, where by they have been employed to framework the working days of enslaved people today. Typically fashioned in Europe and transported abroad, the bells characterize “the globalization of the slavery program,” states Dr. Smeulders.

Not much from the bells is exhibited an ornate box built in the Netherlands in the 18th century, decorated in gilt with scenes of the Dutch trade in slaves, ivory and gold. A luxurious gift in its time, the object’s “paradoxes” want outlining, Dr. Smeulders claims. To set it in a bigger historical and moral context, it is surrounded by visible representations and recordings of tunes handed down by enslaved persons that will remind guests of “the suffering of slavery.”

The Rijksmseum demonstrate will come at a time when a lot of of the Netherlands’ cultural institutions are using a new look at their individual record. The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, identified for operates these as Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” is named for

Johan Maurits,

a 17th-century German prince who was a governor of Dutch Brazil. His position in the slave trade is examined in a new long lasting exhibit at the Mauritshuis, and is also recounted in “Slavery,” which features a gilt-silver basin he owned. At first manufactured in 1586 in Spanish-managed Peru, it was two times exchanged for slaves right before making its way to Brazil in 1642, as a diplomatic reward from a Congolese king to Johan Maurits. It was accompanied by 200 enslaved Africans, who were viewed as part of the reward.

The gleaming metalwork of the item, produced by an not known craftsman, belies its disturbing record. The curators want it to support recall the life of João Mina, whose fate remains a thriller. “We never know what took place to him,” states Dr. Smeulders.

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