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Submission: Green Jackets and Purple Caps
Thanks for submitting the article above, and informing people who might be in London now or soon about the exhibit. Veronese’s work is definitely populated with many people of color, especially young Black men.
I think the article, while a little off in its delivery, touches on an important fact-the way we view these works is absolutely affected by men like Ruskin, a massively influential Victorian Art Critic. This influence is international; Tolstoy translated his works into Russian, Proust translated him into French, Ryuzo Mikimoto translated him into Japanese, and Gandhi translated his works into Gujarati. Ruskin’s attitude toward these figures from the past was not only flippantly racist, he projected these anti-Black attitudes into his writing on art and aesthetics, which were then, as I mention above, spread throughout the world. From the article:The big new VERONESE exhibition at the National Gallery is my opportunity to check out Ruskin’s distasteful jokes during the US Civil War - that in his view the main purpose of Negroes was to be painted by Veronese, and his unamusing request that Charles Eliot Norton send him ‘something American - a slave perhaps. I’ve a great notion of a black boy in a green jacket and purple cap in Paul Veronese’s manner.’
This is how white supremacist notions of beauty, aesthetics, and the devaluation of Black people specifically have become disseminated on a global scale.The more we analyze the eras between when these works were made and the present day, the greater our understanding of how skewed our perspectives have become.
So after reflecting on Ruskin’s comment on Vernonese’s “black boys” I was curious about what else he had to say about ” the negro”. Thanks to Wikipedia dug up that Ruskin was also a supporter of General Eyre, the then Governor of Jamaica, who brutally suppressed the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865.
Paul Bogle, a Baptist deacon who is today remembered today as a National Hero of Jamaica, led Black men and women, who agitated for justice and fair treatment for all in Jamaica, into the town Morant Bay in the east of the island. In response Eyre declared martial law, over 400 Jamaicans were killed directly by soldiers, and 354 more (included Paul Bogle) were arrested and later “executed” or lynched under without proper trials. Over 600 men and women were flogged and thousands of homes belonging to Black Jamaicans were burned to the ground.
Back in England there was a fierce public outcry at the abuse of power and calls for Eyre to be tried for the murder of British subjects. Led by John Stuart Mill The Jamaica Committee (whose members included Charles Darwin and John Tyndall) formed immediately after the rebellion to monitor the government’s response.
Thomas Carlyle set up the “Eyre Defence and Aid Fund” in opposition to the Jamaica Committee. Carlyle had previously published “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question" (sixteen years AFTER the emancipation of enslaved Africans in the British Empire) that suggested slavery should never have been abolished and supported indentured labour. Included in Carlyle’s group to defend Eyre were Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson. and John Ruskin.
John Ruskin’s activities in support of General Eyre are listed in The Life of John Ruskin (1923);
The Jamaica Committee attempted three times to try Eyre for murder, but he was never prosecuted.
In a rather personal twist my grandmother is from Morant Bay. She would often speak of how her uncle described that as a boy he saw “street a run wid blud” during the Rebellion and remind me of the sacrifice Paul Bogle made in support of his community and the liberation of people of Jamaica. I also live very close to Denmark Hill in London where Ruskin lived for 52 years before buggering off complaining the the new railways had “spoilt his view”.