African & European Images of Each Other

In their art, Europeans have depicted Africans for over a thousand years. Africans have depicted Europeans for the last 450+ years. Together, these images illustrate major historical changes in relations and attitudes between the peoples of the two continents. Racism and stereotyping have not always existed between the two peoples. Looking at these images allows students to view beautiful art and to interpret its historical significance.

European Images of Africans

Saint Maurice and Saint Erasmus, Matthias Grünewald, ca 1520

This image below of Mansa Musa is from a famous Catalan map of the world. Its depiction of the Malian emperor teaches two concepts. First, that Europeans perceived African monarchs as powerful and equal to European kings (though the Malian king was, in fact, more powerful). Second, this depiction of Mansa Musa, holding a golden scepter and trading gold to the Berber, shows European understanding that much of European gold in this period arrived from these West African empires.

The Catalan Atlas, ca. 1375

The Age of Imperialism through the Lens of Art

The two images below can help to provoke conversation about what the early nineteenth century was like for a European encountering Africa or Africans. The following two European images show the benevolent colonialism approach to Africa — depicting “the other” the African savages (Ex. The crocodile and the man are depicted with the same–nose, “hands”, etc)

For more information on this topic, take a look at David Northrup’s book “Africa’s Discovery of Europe”, which includes all types of materials on this topic.

Two Girls and A Negro Servant, By Joseph Wright, ca. 1769/70

Broad Grins, by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1800

African images of Europeans

Pendant Mask of the Queen Mother, Benin, ca. 1520

Relief plaque with three Portuguese, Benin, ca. 16th-17th century

Ivory Salt-Cellar with Boat, Benin, 16th Century

Chinese art showing African trade

Explorer Zheng He, returning with a Giraffe for the Emperor, 1414

Library of Congress:

African Peoples’ Encounters with Others