Conference paper “Satirical Rebels? European Visualizations of Black American Insurgents around 1800”

In November 2014, scholars from several universities in Western and Eastern Europe will meet at the University of Konstanz, Germany, to discuss the visualisation of power, resistance and punishment in early modern times.

The overall aim of our conference is to find cross-cultural links as well as sources of conflict and misunderstanding in the respective visual traditions and their socio-political contexts.

Fabian Fechner (University of Tübingen) will add the Latin American perspective to our conference on visualising revolt and punishment. His research on anti-European revolts in Peru encourages us to question both European visual traditions and one-sided narratives of justification.

Fabian is especially interested in the life and legacy of a 16th century Latin American monk, Francisco de la Cruz OP, who was sentenced to death on charges of heresy in 1578. His spiritual visions also conveyed social and political implications.

The abolition of the slave trade, 1792, educational use granted by the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

The abolition of the slave trade, 1792, educational use granted by the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Anti-European upheavals and revolutions play an eminent role in Latin American and African history. But only in the twentieth century, a special political iconography was coined to express and propagate liberty and independence through well-known copperplate engravings, lithographs, and photos. Surprisingly, there exist only very few earlier examples which deal with the question of oversea rebellions, and they were generally produced in Europe. The rebellions which threatened the colonial order were generally visualized as satires for the European public. They played with the motif of the “upside down world”, and they represented blacks in a superior rank or position. In this paper, three of these rare visual representations will be interpreted visually, in terms of their emotional appeal, and in the context of a specific visual culture. With these images, I would like to discuss the following questions: 1) How did oversea history influence European pictorial traditions around 1800? 2) In which way the chosen images vacillate between “pictorial witness” and “satire”? 3) How do the images interact with related textual elements? 4) Does a visual “code” of a colonial world turned upside down exist? – First, an Augsburg copperplate print from ca. 1758 represents a black king in Paraguay, “Nicolai I”. This pro-Jesuit leaflet was printed against the rumor that a Jesuit was the leader of an anti-Spanish indigenous rebellion in 1756. A second representation (William Dent, London, 1789) is a caricature against the abolition of the slave trade. It shows a black “master” punishing a white “slave” and, thus, imagines the worst case scenario from a traditional point of view, if the roles of slave and master had been reversed. The third picture, taken from Marcus Rainsford’s “An historical account of the black empire of Hayti” (London 1805), shows black Haitian soldiers hanging white French soldiers during the Haitian Revolution.


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