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Moor with Emeraldplate by Balthasar Permoser in the collection of the Grünes Gewölbe

Blackamoor figures (Italian moretto, moretti) are stylised depictions of black Africans used in sculpture, jewelry, armorial designs and decorative art.

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Jewelry and decorative arts

As jewelry, such figures usually appear in antique Venetian (though nowadays they can be made anywhere) earrings, bracelets, cuff links, and brooches. Some contemporary craftsmen continue to make individual pieces, but it is rare because of modern issues with the depiction of Black people as "exotic" and decorative.

The blackamoor is typically depicted with a head covering, usually a turban, and covered in rich jewels and gold leaf. It is usually male. The early examples often have European racial features, apart from the color. They are typically enamelled, carved from ebony or painted black to contrast with the bright colors of the embellishments. Depictions may only represent the head, or head and shoulders, facing the viewer in a symmetrical pose.

In decorative sculpture the full body is depicted, either to hold trays as virtual servants or bronze sconces to hold candles or light fixtures. They may be incorporated into small stands, tables, or andirons. They are often portrayed in pairs. Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732) was the most important sculptor of blackamoors. Often these blackamoors are in acrobatic positions that would be impossible to hold for any extended length of time for a real person.

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Collections

One of the finest examples of a Blackamoor in the arts is in the collection is the Mohr mit Smaragdstufe (Moor with Emeraldplate). It was created by Balthasar Permoser in 1724 and is in the collection of the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, Germany. The statue is richly decorated with jewels and is about 64 cm high.

Aleksandr Pushkin had a blackamoor figurine on his desk to remind him of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, his great grandfather. This figure can be seen in his former St. Petersburg apartment, now turned into a museum.

Diana Vreeland had a famous collection of blackamoor jewelry and Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters has some blackamoor pieces in her extensive collection of black memorabilia.

Heraldry

The flag of Sardinia, including four "Maure" motifs, or Moors' heads.

In heraldry, a blackamoor may be a charge in the blazon, or description of a coat of arms. The isolated head of a moor is blazoned "a Maure".

The reasons for the inclusion of a blackamoor head vary. The Moor's head on the crest that appears on the arms of Lord Kirkcudbright, and in consequence the modern crest badge used by Clan MacLellan is supposed to derive from the killing of a moorish bandit known as Black Morrow.[1] The blazon is a naked arm supporting on the point of a sword, a moor's head.[2] Other examples appear to depict captives; the flag of Sardinia once depicted four Maures blindfolded, but in recent versions the blindfolds have been raised to become headbands.

Sculpture

A typical blackamoor sculpture in a servant-role "holding" Morianbron (Blackamoor Bridge) in Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden.

Blackamoor figures were also used in larger sculptures, as for example on Blackamoor Bridge in Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden.

Fred Wilson,[3] an African-American sculptor, displayed an installation at the 2003 Venice Biennale that incorporated blackamoors.[4] Wilson placed wooden blackamoors carrying acetylene torches and fire extinguishers. Wilson noted that such figures are so common in Venice that few people notice them. He said,"They are in hotels everywhere in Venice...which is great, because all of a sudden you see them everywhere. I wanted it to be visible, this whole world which sort of just blew up for me."[4]

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