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This bust of a black boy shows similarities in style to the 1704 Negro boy with fortress crown, a sculpture of a black boy, standing, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. In this sculpture he is naked, except for some elaborate strapped footwear, a strip of drapery and other accessories including an unusual fortress-shaped crown. The sculpture is signed 'JOANNES CLAUD DE COC …. Anno 1704'.
For a similar example see Bust of a black boy by Jan-Claudius de Cock, Netherlands, 1705-10, which is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Museum number: A.18-1913).
De Cock's choice of a black subject may be unusual, but African people, particularly young men and boys, were not an uncommon sight in cosmopolitan Antwerp, where de Cock spent much of his working life. The city's historic trading links and increasing involvement in the transatlantic slave trade contributed to the growth of a black community. Some members of this community worked as domestic servants, and over the course of the 18th century it became a sign of fashion and status to 'employ' (usually without pay) a young black page. It is unclear whether the bust is intended to depict a particular individual or to represent a 'type' of person.
Jan Claudius de Cock (alternate: Johannes; Johan) (1667–1736): a Flemish painter, sculptor, and printmaker who worked on both religious and secular sculpture. His contemporaries were Michiel van der Voort and Jan Peter van Baurscheit the Elder.
From the mid 16th to the mid 18th century Antwerp was the most important centre for sculpture in the Low Countries. This period also witnessed Antwerp's rise to an international trading centre – by 1560 it was the second largest city north of the Alps and its subsequent crash as religious upheavals under the Spanish king Philip II caused a swift decline in the city's fortunes. Almost half of the population of Antwerp emigrated. Trade was also affected by custom dues imposed by the United Provinces of Holland (now the Netherlands) which from 1585 controlled the Scheldt estuary, the city's main outlet to the sea. Nevertheless Antwerp continued to flourish culturally. In particular, sculptors found plentiful work as church interiors began to be renovated and refurbished after the destruction and iconoclasm of the Reformation.
By 1682, de Cock was working as an apprentice in Pieter Verbrugghen the elder’s workshop in Antwerp. Subsequently, following the death of Verbrugghen the younger in 1691, he gained the title of ‘independent master’. After a period spent decorating the courtyard of the Breda Palace for King William III, Stadtholder of the Netherlands in the early 1690s, and carving the Palace’s "William and Mary" ceiling, de Cock returned to in the late 1690s where he established a large workshop. Like many of his counterparts, de Cock worked on both religious pieces (altars, choir stalls, confessionals, pulpits, and tombs) as well as secular items (garden statues and monuments). A rare panel in the Vaduz Castle, The Meeting of Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul of Thebes is considered "the masterpiece of Jan de Cock" in part because of its uncommon subject and iconography.
In her article ‘The Ophovius Madonna: a newly-discovered work by Jan Claudius De Cock’, Cynthia Lawrence compares the Rijksmuseum’s Negro boy with fortress crown with the Child in St Paul’s, Antwerp, commenting that: ‘In spite of their racial differences, the Ophovius Child and the Negro Child have faces that are conceptually similar: both have profoundly round cheeks, small but prominent chins, and delicate mouths that are emphasized at the corners.’ In addition, Lawrence points out that de Cock’s figures have a certain ‘eye type..., with no indication of either iris or pupil, and framed by an emphatically outlined upper lid, and a heavily creased lower one’. These strong similarities indicate that our sculpture was sculpted by de Cock and that this bust probably dates from between 1704 and 1720. Later, de Cock’s style became more decorative, and less monumental and classicising.
Allison Blakely, 'Blacks in the Dutch World: the evolution of racial imagery in a modern society', Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press, 1993
Edward Scobie, ‘The Black in Western Europe’, in Ivan Van Sertima (editor). African Presence in Early Europe. New Brunswick: Transaction Press, 1985, pp.190-202
Cynthia Lawrence, ‘The Ophovius Madonna: a newly-discovered work by Jan Claudius De Cock’, Jaarboek van hetMuseum voor Schone Kunsten, 1986, pp.273-293
|Height||27.50 cm||(10.83 inches)|
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