Tuesday 7 September 2021

Visible Skin: Rediscovering the Renaissance through Black Portraiture

Peter Brathwaite - The Paston Treasure - #GettyMuseumChallenge
Peter Brathwaite - The Paston Treasure

Baritone Peter Brathwaite spent a good portion of lockdown last year with an ambitious Twitter and Instagram project Rediscovering Black Portraiture, where he re-imagined representations of Black portraiture from the 11th century to the present day, daring viewers to consider how people of colour have and should be seen and portrayed. He embarked on the project as part of the #GettyMuseumChallenge: restaging famous paintings with everyday household objects. Peter restaged works that focused specifically on Black portraiture using items from his family’s past, and from his cultural heritage in Barbados and Britain. Peter is currently writing a book about the project for Getty Publications.

There is now a chance to see some of Peter's work on a rather larger scale. Visible Skin: Rediscovering the Renaissance through Black Portraiture is a new outdoor exhibition across King’s College London’s Strand Campus showcasing artworks by Peter. From the 10 September 2021, photographs from this series will be shown in windows across King’s Strand buildings, as part of Westminster City Council’s launch of the Strand Aldwych project, which will transform the traffic dominated gyratory into a new pedestrian-focused destination public space in London.

A still largely unexplored facet of the Renaissance is the diverse, multicultural European life represented in its art, particularly the representation of Black individuals. Portraits and images of Black people abounded in the Renaissance. They included portraits drawn from life as well as a wider cast of imagined Black identities such as biblical subjects, saints and allegorical figures. 

The images in this exhibition not only testify to the presence and prominence of Black life in Renaissance Europe, they also mirror its complexities. European countries had a long history of trade and diplomatic contact with African kingdoms. From the 1440s onwards the trade of enslaved peoples began to overlay this longer history. But not all Black or African people in Europe were enslaved or connected to slavery, nor were all Black people African. Princes and diplomats, Black travellers, merchants, emissaries, performers, clergymen, and skilled craftsmen all appear in the records, and the visual art, of the Renaissance. 

Peter Brathwaite can soon be seen in the world premiere of THE TIME OF OUR SINGING at La Monnaie/De Munt, Kris Defoort’s latest opera based on the novel by Richard Powers. In June 2019, he sang the role of The Old Gardener in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners at Conway Hall.

Further information from the Renaissance Skin website.

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