“…Although there is no date on the prospectus, Schomburg’s book project on Negro Painters was part of the third and last phase in his career as a Harlem/Brooklyn intellectual, antiquarian, and race leader. This phase begins in 1926, after he sells his legendary collection to the New York Public Library and uses the money to travel abroad on a two month “grand continental tour” in search of representations of and by Black subjects throughout the great art museums of Europe. Schomburg scheduled research and acquisition visits to archives, booksellers, and antiquarian shops throughout his trip, including consulting at Seville’s Archivo General the ecclesiastical records of the city’s Cofradía de Negritos and purchasing 185 bibliographical items that he later donated to the NYPL Schomburg collection. Still, we know from his letters and writings that Schomburg’s main concern in this voyage was the study of European studio painting by or about Afro-descendants dating from or inspired by High Renaissance academic techniques in portraiture and spatial perspective.
Schomburg’s fascination with the explosive artistic innovations and accomplishments of the Early and High Renaissance, particularly those of the escuela de Sevilla, date back to a 1916 piece he published in Crisis on the legend of Sebastian Gómez, el mulato de Murillo. Here Schomburg referred to Juan Ceán Bermúdez’s 1800 Diccionario Histórico de los mas illustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España in order to present Gómez as a slave who won both his freedom and his admission into the Seville school because of the painting skills he learned surreptitiously, watching his master work while serving as a pigment crusher. Schomburg would later write a short biographical article about another famous Renaissance mulatto servant/painter, Juan de Pareja, who posed for one of his master Diego Velazquez’s most famous portraits. The participation of black slave artists in the school of Seville was the topic of Schomburg’s most important (and still unpublished) address to the American Negro Academy during his tenure as president—“Fragmentary Tribute to Spanish Negro Painters of the School of Seville,” given on December of 1923…”
Image Credit: “Arthur Schomburg, ca. 1896” / Arthur Alfonso Schomburg collection. / Personal photographs, 1870s-1980s / Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division