Black Drink and Native American Alcohol Use

Theodor de Bry, Belgium, 1590
Copperplate engraving
Getty Research Institute

Jacques Le Moyne was a French artist and cartographer who in 1564 traveled to an ultimately unsuccessful French colony in modern-day Florida. Much of his fifteen-month stay in Florida was spent with the native Timucuans. He spent this time creating depictions of the Timucuans and making maps of the area (near present-day Jacksonville). Unfortunately, in 1565 during a Spanish siege on the French fort, Fort Caroline, Le Moyne lost the majority of his work. After sailing back to France and eventually settling in England as a Huguenot refugee, Le Moyne recreated many of his drawings from memory. Shortly after his death in 1588, his drawings were acquired and reproduced as engravings by Theodor de Bry.


De Bry’s engravings are questioned for their veracity due to their dubious connection to Le Moyne’s original drawings, but, despite their likely embellishment, they cannot be understood as complete fabrications of Timucuan culture. This particular engraving depicts a Timucuan chief preparing his soldiers for battle by preparing black drink. Black drink is a name used for various ritual drinks used by Native Americans. It usually contained a relatively large amount of caffeine or a small amount of alcohol by today’s standards.


There exists a strong cultural association between Native Americans and a biological predisposition to alcohol abuse, but modern studies are challenging that conception. Instead, scholars are looking at other factors that may have contributed to an increased rate of alcohol consumption among Native Americans in comparison to non-Native Americans. One of the factors that may explain this discrepancy is the prominence of these black drink rituals.


In pre-Columbian America, alcohol use was strictly ritualistic. Also, as we have stated previously, the alcohol content of black drink and other alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian America was much lower than that of the alcohol brought over by Europeans. When stronger European alcohol became available in relative abundance Native peoples had no infrastructure in place for its regulation. Native Americans’ higher incidence of binge drinking may be linked to the historical use of alcohol as a ritualistic spiritual aid. This is just one of the many possible explanations for the high prevalence of Native American alcoholism. Some scholars even suggest that alcohol use evolved into a method of protest for Native Americans.


The stereotype of the drunken Indian is a prominent and harmful one for Native Americans. It paints Native Americans as immoral pleasure seekers who would rather escape from reality than adjust to the ever-changing modern world. Yes, alcohol use played a part in the decline of the Native American, but its overuse by Native Americans can be explained by a variety of cultural factors, including the nature of Native American use of black drink and other psychoactive substances. 




Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. “All the Real Indians Died off” : And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Boston : Beacon Press, [2016], 2016.


French, Laurence Armand. “Psychoactive Agents and Native American Spirituality: Past and Present.” Contemporary Justice Review 11, no. 2 (June 2008): 155–63.


“Le Moyne de Morgues, Jacques (1533-1588), Artist and Cartographer | American National Biography.” Accessed December 9, 2018.


“Theodor de Bry | Admiranda Narratio Fida Tamen, de Commodis et Incolarvm Ritibvs Virginiae : Nvper Admodvm Ab Anglis. . . (1590) | Artsy.” Accessed December 10, 2018.

Music and Theology: Martin Luther’s “Deutsche Messe”

Line-cut Facsimile of Deutsche Messe  

Martin Luther, Wittenburg, Germany. 1526.

Woodcut print book.

Luther, Martin and Michael Lotter. Deutsche Messe vnd ordnung Gottis diensts. Wittenburg: 1526.

“Martin Luther – Deutsche Messe 1526.” Martin Luther (1482-1546). Cedarville University Digital Commons. Accessed December 6, 2018.

This book is a facsimile of Deutsche Messe, a mass written by Martin Luther in 1526. Though the Reformation brought about the purging of art from worship, Martin Luther was a proponent of just the opposite: he believed that the art of music furthered the act of devotion. Luther specifically believed in the concept of musical ethos, which claimed that music had an ethical effect on the mind and body. According to his theory, good music, which led people to God with its emotional response, ignited the passion necessary to worship God. In composing the music of his Deutsche Messe, Luther hoped he would lead people to God and his theological doctrine of sola scriptura, sola fides, and sola gratia.

What sets Luther’s mass apart from other traditional masses is its use of German. By using the vernacular language, Luther believed that he could better communicate his theological principles to a German audience. Luther supported the theory that German people best understood God’s word in German hymns. In the Deutsche Messe, he matched the natural versification of the German text to explicitly German melodies. In doing so, Luther believed that his hymns made God’s word more intelligible to a German audience.

It is true that Luther did retain some elements of the traditional mass, namely the standard Latin hymns. Luther wanted the German people to be well-versed in Latin among other languages. He advocated for the German population to learn and understand Scripture in as many languages as possible, believing that it would allow them to spread the word of God to people wherever they went. 

The Latin hymns which Luther chose to retain were strategically chosen so as to not reduce the intelligibility of the mass for the general German public. These hymns drew on well-known Catholic plainchants. Because the Latin text and melodies of these hymns had been standard in the traditional masses, most of the German people who engaged with Luther’s mass were already familiar with the Latin portions.

It is also important to note the increased accessibility of the Deutsche Messe in comparison to traditional Latin masses. The mass was spread widely among the young German population because it was incorporated into German schooling; students and teachers alike attended the mass and were familiarized with both the German and Latin hymns. The printing of the book, as demonstrated by the facsimile, also played a part in its accessibility. After the birth of the printing press, literacy rates in Germany increased dramatically. As a result, the book was easily accessible to the majority of the German population.

Another aspect of the mass which Luther found marketable was its novelty. Being that no prior mass had been written in the vernacular language, Luther hoped that the originality of the Deutsche Messe would attract non-Lutherans to his music and his theology. Whether or not Luther was successful in this pursuit is debatable. What Luther did accomplish, though, was the creation of a new type of mass which used vernacular language and music of the people to appeal to a specific audience.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Matthew R. “The Three Reformation solas and twenty-first century ethical issues.” Consensus 30 (2005).

Cameron, Euan, ed. “The Power of the Word: Renaissance and Reformation.” in Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History, 63-101. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Foroughi, Louisa. “Spiritual Reformation.” HPRH 2003, Fordham University, Bronx, September 14, 2018.

Grew, Eva Mary. “Martin Luther and Music.” Music & Letters 19, no. 1 (1938): 67-78.

Lippman, Edward A. “The Sources and Development of the Ethical View of Music in Ancient Greece.” The Musical Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1963): 188-209.

Janz, Denis R., ed. A Reformation Reader. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Luther, Martin. Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation: The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, edited by B.J. Kidd. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

Sternfeld, Frederick W. “Music in the Schools of the Reformation.” Musica Disciplina 2, no. 1/2 (1948): 99-122.


Girl with a Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer, the Netherlands, 1665.
Oil on canvas.
Mauritshuis, inv. no. 670

One of the most captivating paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earringis a troniefeaturing a beautiful young woman wearing foreign dress, a blue and yellow turban, and an impossibly large pearl earring. As a tronie, the painting depicts an imaginary figure. She appears to be either turning away from or facing the viewer, at once foreign and intimate. Her luminescent pearl earring lends the painting an otherworldly quality and signals the broader Dutch obsession with pearls in the 17th century.

Vermeer was a technical master of light and reflections. His other paintings depict figures in enclosed spaces with singular sources of light. He included multiple layers of oil paint to produce a luminous sfumatoeffect, a hazy contour. Girl with a Pearl Earringembodies Vermeer’s artistic prowess. The massive pearl earring catches the light and refracts it across the woman’s beautiful face. Her slightly parted lips contain a sheen in the upper left corner, demonstrating how the pearl illuminates her sensuous face. The interplay of light and darkness creates an intimate atmosphere between the viewer and the painting’s enigmatic figure.

A famed painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer produced art at the peak of the Dutch maritime empire. The Dutch ended war with Spain in the 1648 Treaty of Münster, enabling the Dutch to operate freely in Eastern markets. Throughout the 17thcentury, the Dutch expanded trade through the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and gained a monopoly on the pearl trade in the East. Pearls became popular status symbols in the Netherlands, embodying the exotic beauty of the East. Just as the tulipmaniacraze saw Dutch elites paying exorbitant prices for tulips, the Dutch Golden Age saw elite similarly pining for pearls. Pearls contained a foreign mystique and were thus desirable objects. Vermeer often painted pearls in conjunction with women, drawing a parallel between the pearls’ milky beauty with the ideal woman’s moral purity.

Girl with a Pearl Earringis notable not only for its superb painting technique, but also for its reflection of European self-image. The woman’s turban, dress, and pearl earring are all symbols of foreignness to the European viewer, yet the woman’s beautiful European face is familiar. The figure in Girl with a Pearl Earringembodies Europe— specifically the Dutch— on the precipice of a new, globalist age. Conflating European standards of beauty with Eastern “exoticism,” the Europeans came to embrace foreign influences. Girl with a Pearl Earring’s tension between Eastern and Western beauty is what captivates viewers.


Atlas of World History. Edited by Patrick K. O’Brien. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.

Brook, Timothy. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Gifford, E. Melanie. “Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer’s Technique.” In Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker, 185- 199. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998.

Price, J.L. Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. Reaction Books, 2011.

Sluiter, Engel. “Dutch Maritime Power and the Colonial Status Quo, 1585- 1641.” Pacific Historical Review11, no. 1 (1942). Accessed November 29, 2018.*.html.

Vermeer, Johannes. Girl with a Pearl Earring. 1665. Oil on canvas. Mauritshuis, the Hague. November, 13, 2018.

Great Disaster to Great Opportunity


Franc D. Milient, Portugal, 1785
Print, Paper
National Library of Brazil
Millient, Franc D. “General Map of the City of Lisbon.” 1785. World Digital Library. National Library of Brazil.









This map of Lisbon, created thirty years after the massively disastrous earthquake of 1755 by Franc D. Milient, depicts many of the changes made to Lisbon in the wake of the disaster. Very little is known about Franc D. Milient, aside from his status as a cartographer, but his representation of Lisbon after the completed rebuilding of the Baixa is a priceless diagram illustrating the manner in which the Baixa was rebuilt in the Enlightenment spirit.

The most obvious indication of the new spirit in which the Baixa rose is the grid structure which arranges the buildings into recognizable and extremely regular blocks, reminiscent of a city like Chicago or New York City. This plan, proposed by Eugenio dos Santos, a military engineer under Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marqes de Pombal and secretary of state, featured a regular grid meant to evoke the Enlightenment values of symmetry and order. The plan also accounted for the need for practical elements such as easy navigation to and from important locations like the Mint or the trading houses and the safety of those who would live and work there in the future.

Carvalho was the consummate Enlightenment leader. He wanted to use the newest discoveries to create the ideal city center where reason could shine over the rest of the city and Portugal, so he not only consulted his military engineers but asked that a survey be spread throughout the survivors inquiring into their particular experiences and the events of the quake. The survey was the first of its kind, and although modifications have been made as seismology advances, the same basic structure and questions are still used in modern seismology. The answers were used to inform the new design of the Baixa with the intent to make safer the elements that were particularly troublesome during the 1755 earthquake. For example, the grid design, while symbolic of more intangible Enlightenment ideas, was also chosen for its considerations towards safety. The easily navigable streets make it easier to find a way around any street blockages, and the wider streets make it harder to block them in the first place while also preventing secondary damage from buildings falling onto each other across the street.

The architecture of individual buildings was also carefully informed by the new, Enlightenment science along with the survey results. While many changes to the architecture were made, the most important new addition was the gaiola pombalina, a wooden framework of beams in a spoke or cross-like arrangement embedded within the masonry walls of each building. These structures were meant to flex with seismic waves in a way that stone alone would not, and according to modern seismologists it does exactly this, redistributing horizontal seismic forces strikingly well.

Klapmuts with Flowering Plants and Auspicious Objects



Anonymous, China, c. 1680-1720.
porcelain, glaze, cobalt.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. AK-RBK-15808-B

The klapmuts soup bowl was named after the broad-rimmed felt hats Dutch peasants traditionally wore during the Dutch Golden Age (c. 1600-1700). Artisans in the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties produced klapmuts for Dutch markets. While the Chinese consumed their broth-like soup directly from the bowl, the Dutch were forbidden to lift their bowls during meals. The klapmuts’ shallow body and broad rim allowed European eaters to use a spoon. The Chinese imbued their carefully-crafted porcelain exports with Chinese symbolism, leading the Dutch to consider klapmuts objects of good fortune. Klapmuts were prized in the Netherlands as signs of cosmopolitan wealth.

Chinese artisans aspiring after shengong— divine worksmanship— produced klapmuts bowls. These delicate blue-and-white porcelain bowls had an ivory glaze and bore no trace of the potter’s hand. When blue-and-white pottery gained popularity in Europe, Chinese kilns became centers of unprecedented production. Chinese artisanship remained more than mere production; it was a way to honor the dynasty through artistic prowess. It was a significant source of dynastic pride to produce high-quality pottery on a large scale.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) acquired klapmuts bowls through trade with China, marketing them in the Netherlands as “exotic” and “auspicious.” Chinese-produced klapmuts pervaded Dutch culture as status symbols, becoming staple pieces in still life paintings and aristocratic homes. The popularity of klapmuts bowls spurred Dutch reproductions of Chinese pottery. However, Delft-style klapmuts were not of the same caliber as Chinses klapmuts.

This particular bowl bears the “auspicious” image of a vase containing peacock feathers. Peacocks were the symbol of the Ming Dynasty, representing elegance and divine beauty. Peacock feathers served as status markers, as Chinese military and government officials wore peacock plumes in their hats. Members of the Chinese elite owned vases with small gaps to showcase the feathers’ fine quills.  The “auspicious” image of peacock feathers was thus conflated with Chinese imperial power.

Furthermore, the image of a vase containing peacock feathers allowed artisans to demonstrate their superb technique. Klapmuts were fine pottery, and painting a vase with peacock feathers was an ambitious undertaking. The vase with peacock feathers enabled artisans to express their technical skills and honor their dynasty.

The klapmuts bowl is a remarkable emblem of an emerging global mindset in the early modern period. The Chinese tailored their products for a global market, accommodating Dutch cultural needs through the bowl’s design. Simultaneously, the Chinese asserted their imperial might by including “auspicious” images of peacock feathers. The production and artisanship behind the klapmuts bowls demonstrate a marked awareness of Dutch-Chinese interdependence on the global stage.


Bowl (klapmuts) with flowering plants and auspicious objects. 1680-1720. Porcelain. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. October 12, 2018.,53.

Brook, Timothy. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Chow, Fong. “Symbolism in Chinese Porcelain: The Rockefeller Bequest.” October 12, 2009).

Hay, Jonathan. Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2010.

Welch, Patricia Bjaaland. Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2008.



Vigée-Lebrun and Female Artists in Enlightenment France

“Peace Bring Back Abundance” Vigée-Le Brun Elisabeth Louise (1755-1842). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. Oil on canvas, 41 x 52 in

As one of the only women to ever gain acceptance into the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Vigée-Lebrun submitted “Peace Bring Back Abundance” in her application. As a portrait artist, an allegorical painting such as this was unusual for Lebrun. During the French Enlightenment, some genres of art, such as historical and allegorical paintings, were considered superior to other, such as still life and portraiture. Considering Lebrun’s profession in portraiture, and the fact that the large majority of applicants accepted into the Royal Academy were men, this compromise on Lebrun’s part is suitable. Additionally, Lebrun’s ties with the royal family, as Marie Antoinette’s favorite portrait artist, diminished Lebrun’s chances of acceptance even further, as the Academy wanted to remain an institution separated from the influences of the crown. In fact, Lebrun’s admittance would have been impossible without the interference of King Louis XVI.

There are many revolutionary qualities of “Peace Bring Back Abundance,” displaying the personified themes of peace and abundance during a time period riddled with poverty, famine, and uprise. Created in 1780, Lebrun portrayed this piece directly after the American Revolution and before the French Revolution. In fact, the use of allegory itself was revolutionary was this genre was largely associated with carrying “emblems of revolutionary power” through portrayal of the “incarnation of revolutionary values” (De Baecque, 111). The timing for this painting almost certainly suggests an incentive to create a political statement on behalf of Lebrun. If anything, it conveys the importance of foods such as wheat and fruits, to those who rebelled against their sovereigns. The French Revolution is largely remembered for events such as the Women’s March on Versailles, a demonstration held to call attention to the high prices and scarcity of bread. In fact, Marie Antoinette, a woman closely associated with Lebrun herself, is remembered for having allegedly said “Let them eat cake” in response to the bread riots spurring all over France. This painting, at the very least, indicates the idea that food supply and peace go hand in hand.

Vigée-Lebrun could also have been making a statement about gender roles during Enlightenment France. The painting depicts Peace, a woman draped in dark colors, holding an olive branch and gently leading forward Abundance, also embodied as a woman. Abundance contrasts Peace by wearing white clothing, exposing her breast, and holding wheat and grains as well as various fruits. Due to the contrast in colors, Peace can be interpreted as a male figure and Abundance as a female considering the “darker flesh tones and hair color traditionally used to indicate maleness, the pearly flesh and blonde hair to suggest femaleness” (Sheriff, 126). This indicates a broader theme about gender roles, as Abundance is sexualized through her lack of clothing, as well as her suggested virtue through innocence in her light color schemes and dependence on a male figure. Here, Lebrun’s attempts to insert feminist themes into a painting that would harbor a largely male audience.


Image Vigee-Lebrun, Elisabeth Louise. “Peace Bring Back Abundance.” Metropolitan Museum of Art,

De Baecque, Antoine “The Allegorical Image of France, 1750-1800: A Political Crisis of Representation” Representations, Vol. 47 (1994):111-43.

Sheriff, Mary D. 1996. The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

A Double-Edged Drum: The Power of the Drum from Africa to America

Akan Drum
Unknown creator, Ghana, c. 1735
Carved wood and deer skin.
The British Museum

PROVENANCE: Thought to have been made by the Akan people of present day Ghana; brought to America aboard slave ship; obtained in Virginia by the Rev. Clerk on behalf of British Collector Sir Hans Sloane; part of founding collection of The British Museum, 1753.

This drum originated from West Africa in the Akan region of Ghana and was brought on a slave ship to the Virginia colony c. 1735. It is one of the oldest surviving African-American objects. While the carved wood is from the cordia africana, a tree from West Africa, the deer skin is North American. This indicates that the drum was used in its new home.

Drums have played a central role in Africa throughout history. Generally the sound of the drum was an announcement, such as declarations of wars or celebrations. In his autobiography The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings the formerly enslaved African Olaudah Equiano described Africa as a nation of dancers and musicians and emphasizes the use of drums. Within a community where everyone speaks the same drum language drums can have rhetorical impact. Since drum language is specific to a community and only accessible to ‘in-group’ members, drumming contributed to the formation of personhood and group identity.

Slavers were likely to lose up to one-half of their human ‘cargo’ during the middle passage. It was in their economic interests to keep the slaves alive and healthy. The Akan Drum was likely used in the practice known as ‘dancing the slaves’. Ship doctors believed nostalgic melancholy was the cause of diseases and recommended dancing as an antidote.

The threat of violence under which slaves ‘danced’ turned music and dance into tools of subjugation. Slavers made the dancing into a form of entertainment for personal enjoyment. The ship captains’ declarations that ‘white men’ had to be obeyed enabled the slavers to use the rich legacy of African drum-dance culture to create and image of blackness and whiteness, in which blacks were the subjugated and whites the subjugators.

Female slaves were kept on the main deck of the ship where they were vulnerable to the sexual predation of the slavers. The forced dancing became a twisted form of foreplay for rape. Refusal to participate resulted in severe punishments. A young African girl on the slave ship Recovery was tortured and killed for refusing to dance. In the complete annihilation of the ‘cargo’ the slavers went against their economic interests. The girl denied the slavers power and pleasure by rebelling against the racial script of subordination they had written for her. The slavers had to destroy her in order to take back control of her body.

The use of African music, dance, and instruments on the slaves ships allowed slaves to preserve homeland traditions. Dance became an integral part of the daily lives of slaves in North America. During Saturday night dances slaves would dance to the beat of the drum and talk about the freedom they had possessed in Africa. Dance practices of the slaves became intertwined with resistance and survival.

Music and dance culture of the slaves contributed to the formation of group identity and self-esteem. This threatened the system of slavery, which relied on the complete oppression of slaves. Masters’ fear of the communicative power of drums was confirmed by the Stono rebellion of 1739 in which rebels used a drum to signal each other. Slaves were subsequently banned from using drums.

The same drum which beat for subjugation could beat for rebellion. Slavers manipulated the culturally vital African Drum to subjugate black slaves through dance. The power of an instrument like the Akan Drum to communicate and unify persisted from Africa to North America. The drum became a double edged sword which slavers used to subjugate slaves and slaves used to rebel against the system of subjugation.


Akan Drum. Early 18th Century. Carved wood and deer skin. The British Museum, London. November 13, 2018.

Anku, Willie. “Drumming Among The Akan and Anlo Ewe of Ghana: An Introduction.” African Music Vol. 8, No. 3 (2009): 38-64.

Aubrey, Thomas. The Sea-Surgeon, or the Guinea Man’s Vade Mecum. London, 1729.

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Bokor, Michael J. K. “When the Drum Speaks: The Rhetoric of Motion, Emotion, and Action in African Societies.” A Journal of the History of Rhetoric Vol. 32: No. 2 (2014): 165-194.

Cruikshank, Isaac. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Or the Inhumanity of Dealers in Human Flesh Exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s Treatment of a Young Negro Girl of 15 for her Virjen (sic) Modesty. 1792 April 10. Etched Print. Library of Congress, Washington D.C. In Ring Shout, Wheel About. Champaign: University of Illinois, 2014, 43.

“Dance among Slaves.” Gale Library of Daily Life: American Civil War. November 16, 2018.

Emery, Lynne Fauley. Black Dance From 1619 to Today. Princeton: Princeton Book Company, 1988.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Group, 2003.

Mallipeddi, Ramesh. “‘A Fixed Melancholy’: Migration, Memory, an the Middle Passage.” The Eighteenth Century Vol. 55: Nos. 2-3 (2014): 235-253.

Neely, Paula K. “Akan Drum.” Dig Into History Vol. 20, No. 5, (May-June 2018): 57.

Thompson, Katrina Dyonne. Ring Shout, Wheel About. Champaign: University of Illinois, 2014.

The Portrayal of Black Identity in Casta Painting

No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata

Andrés de Islas, Mexico, 1774

Oil on canvas

75 x 54 cm

Museo de América, Madrid

de Islas, Andrés. No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata (From Spaniard and Black, a Mulata is Born). 1774. Oil on canvas. Museo de América, Madrid. In Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, 116.

Andrés de Islas produced this painting in Mexico as part of a series of casta paintings that introduce the Black African-Spaniard lineage. Although the purpose for commissioning such paintings are not well understood, casta paintings are theorized to have served as a souvenir for wealthy European audiences. This enabled them to have a unique glimpse of colonial life. In effect, this painting would have been a part of a series that depicts the racial hierarchy of Latin America.

Islas introduces the concept of Black African-Spaniard lineage in this painting by depicting a violent domestic encounter between a Black African woman and a Spanish man. In this conflict, the Black African woman grabs the hair of a Spanish man and is about to strike him with a kitchen utensil. In response, the Spanish man expresses shock while protecting himself from getting injured. In the midst of this conflict, their mulatto daughter pushes on her mother’s leg. In the painting, Islas highlights the various exotic fruits and vegetables in Latin America by comparing them to the oddity of the Spaniard-Black African couple and their mulatto daughter.

In the seventeenth century, elite members of society exerted great power over those of African descent and enforced rigorous laws after Africans incited a mass riot in 1611. In the eighteenth century, the elite members of Latin American society saw that the categories of the Latin American caste system were deteriorating. However, they commissioned paintings which continued to illustrate a taxonomy of castas that was no longer functioning. Appealing to a foreign audience, Europeans and elite members of Latin American society may have commissioned a casta painting like this one to enforce the ideals of a deteriorating casta system and maintain exclusive economic privileges.

In doing so, they resisted the social advancement of Africans, who were acquiring the power to purchase whiteness and attain social mobility. Elite members of society responded in protest to this and complained that those of African descent were “people who in our houses one would not give a seat”.[1] To express their fear of those of African descent, the elite commissioned paintings that displayed them in unstable domestic settings. Moreover, to emphasize the debased social dynamic that a household with one of purely African blood could create, Islas juxtaposes this painting with more stable households characterized by familial members who produce children with fair skin.

[1] Ann Twinam, “Purchasing Whiteness,” in Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America, ed. Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 152.


Carrera, Magali. Imagining Identity in New Spain. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Katzew, Ilona. Casta Painting : Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Twinam, Ann, “Purchasing Whiteness,” in Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America, ed. Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009, 141-165.


People with Crowns Ate Fruits with Crowns: The Royal Pineapple

Charles II Presented with a Pineapple
Unknown painter, Britain, c. 1675-80
Oil on canvas.
96.6 x 114.5 cm
Royal Collection Trust

PROVENANCE: Presented to Queen Mary by Lady Mountstephen in 1926; formerly in the Bredalbane collection.

This oil painting’s subject is Charles II, King of Great Britain (1630-85). A kneeling man, possibly the royal gardener John Rose, presents Charles II with a pineapple in front of a large garden and house. The king is depicted wearing the typical fashionable clothing of the 1670s, which is unusual because he is normally painted wearing ceremonial robes or armour. Although in casual dress Charles II is presented with a symbol of royalty, the pineapple.

Out of the many fruits encountered in the ‘New World’, the pineapple was of special interest to European travelers due to its unusual form, taste, and qualities. Upon his first encounter with the fruit Spanish explorer Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo declared it to be the unrivaled prince of all fruits. Even King Ferdinand gave the pineapple his highest praise. The pineapple became associated with royalty in Europe. The leaves on the top of the fruit are called the crown, so the pineapple certainly functions well as a symbol for kings. These royal connotations are incredibly illustrated by the Dunmore Pineapple, the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunmore built in 1761 with a fourteen meter tall pineapple crowning the building. The structure was designed to represent wealth and power and the royal symbolism of the pineapple was used to achieve this.

The pineapple presented to Charles II was claimed to have been the first pineapple grown in England. Although pineapples were later grown in Europe using hothouses, the date of the painting c. 1675-80 makes it is more likely that the pineapple pictured would have been imported. A certain parallel emerges between the pineapple and King Charles II beyond the royal status both enjoyed. In the painting a king who was both home grown and imported is presented with a royal symbol which is likewise home grown and imported.

Charles II’s father Charles I was beheaded in 1649 at the climax of the English civil war. The war, which lasted from 1642-1651, included wars in England, Scotland, and Ireland and become so intertwined largely due to Charles I himself. The Rump House of Commons created The High Court of Justice to try Charles I for treason against England for using his power to pursue personal interest rather than the country’s welfare. The court placed command responsibility on the shoulders of Charles I, holding him responsible for all the terrible things which had occurred during the wars. Despite Charles I’s refusal to recognize the court’s authority he was declared guilty and beheaded.

Although Charles II was declared king shortly after his father’s execution, he was unable to assume rule because England entered into the period known as the English Commonwealth. The country became a de facto republic headed by Oliver Cromwell. Charles II fled to mainland Europe after being defeated by Cromwell in battle. The dethroned king spent nine years in exile in France, the Dutch Republic, and the Spanish Netherlands. A political crisis following the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. In 1660 Charles II was received in London as king.

Similar to the pineapple he was presented with in the painting, Charles II also had the dual identity of being homegrown and imported. He was homegrown because he was born and grew up in England while his father ruled and he was imported because he was returning to rule England after being in exile for nine years, a significant portion of his life. This is a moment where pineapples not only symbolize kingly qualities, but symbolize kings themselves.


Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c. 1675-80. Royal Collection Trust, Britain. Accessed October 12, 2018,

Kishlansky, Mark A, and John Morrill. “Charles I.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, September 23, 2004. Accessed October 12, 2018,

Okihiro, Gary Y. Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Oviedo, Gonzalo Fernandez de. Historia General y Natural de Las Indias. 1535. Book 7, Chapter 14.

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