Celebrating Race in the Renaissance

Image of the Week: What's the meaning behind this 16th-century cameo featuring a black and a white face?

Cameo, XVI century. Overlapping busts of a black man and a white woman. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet des Médailles

In the intervening centuries, cameos with black heads remained popular, though they gradually lost their original meaning. In their more modern form, they are known as “blackamoor” cameos. In 1990 an African-American entrepreneur launched her signature piece, the Black Cameo, featuring the profile bust of a black woman. In this way the cycle of co-option of the black image as adornment and symbolic significance has come full circle.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root’s editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek.