Art History’s Mysteries: Albrecht Durer and his portrait of a Black man


Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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If you go through various websites, you will find that the Northern Renaissance artist etched, painted, and sketched mostly White people.  However, this 1508 portrait titled Head of a Negro (sorry), shows otherwise.  As one can see, this realistic portrait shows a man looking off to the side with a calm expression.  Since he made this portrait in 1508, we know he drew this in Nuremberg after his travels around Italy.  Regarding this artwork, I do have questions.

  • Who was this man?
  • How did Durer meet him?
  • Did he draw this man after encountering him in Italy?
  • What did Durer think about people of African descent?

Now, I am not fully educated in the state of race relations of Italy and Nuremberg, but I will find out more later.

ETA:  Due to real life hindering me, I have not studied more on this.  I do plan on it though.


  1. Interesting observations Catherine!

    This also reminds me of a figure in Benozzo Gozzolli’s Procession of The Magi painted in the Medici Chapel. Knowing that this work depicted prominent persons in commerce and politics of the day, he must have been a noteworthy ally to be immortalised in this way.

    You can see him standing right in front of Cosimo The Elder in this phase of the Chapel decorations:


  2. Let me know if you find anything out! I have always been intrigued by that figure. Even though Gozzoli’s fresco pre-dates Durer’s image by almost 60 years, it would be interesting to know who this prominent fellow was!

    Kind Regards

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