Cupids of colour: gods of African appearance at sixteenth-century German courts

Carolin Alff, Anna Grasskamp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While very few portraits of men and women of African origin by early modern German artists have survived, people of colour feature in great numbers in sixteenth-century engravings, costume albums, collectibles and visual representations of court spectacles. Some of these sources represent men of African appearance as Mercury and his son Cupid, the god of desire. This motif's emergence was informed by the German reception of visual records on conquest and exploration by non-German authors and further shaped by the local frameworks of courtly entertainment. The politics of viewing as defined by sixteenth-century artists and their commissioners amounted to an appropriation of the other in the artfully created spaces of theatrical performance and collecting, enabling the temporary presentation of men of colour as gods that was in stark contrast with the objectification and commodification of their lives by the early modern slave trade.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-35
Number of pages30
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2022


  • Court culture
  • Representations of people of colour
  • Sixteenth-century German art


Dive into the research topics of 'Cupids of colour: gods of African appearance at sixteenth-century German courts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this