Libyans / Africans: Ancient and modern composite statue of “The Moor”

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Libyans / Africans: Ancient and modern composite statue of “The Moor”,' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified August 1, 2023,

A composite statue (using both ancient and modern materials) made from alabaster, from black and multi-coloured marble, and from lapis lazuli (by Nicolas Cordier in 1611-1612) depicting a dark-skinned standing figure (Louvre museum, inv. MR 303):

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): This statue commissioned by the Borghese family in the early seventeenth century is entitled Il Moro, or “The Moor.” While it is unclear how much of the statue is ancient, it is relatively clear that the alabaster torso is ancient, with adjustments made by the artist to the lower part of the skirt. Although the figure as it stands is depicted as a man, the lower skirt portion of the statue may have originally been part of a sculpture of a woman, lending the statue some gender ambiguity. The head is almost certainly a classicizing attempt on the part of the seventeenth century artist, Cordier, that tries to copy Roman portraits of African people. The strap across the figure’s chest contains the family crest of the Borghese family and, as Erin Giffin has noted, suggests possession of the figure by the papal family, and potentially servitude. The commissioning of this piece occurs in the context of the efforts of the Borghese papacy to expand their reign to the Kingdom of the Congo. This sends a message both of outsider/servitude and of incorporation by referencing early modern notions of biblical genealogy. It is a stitching of time and place to connect and conflate ancient empire with the reach of the modern papacy.

Like the composite statues of captives also currently housed in the Louvre (link), this statue testifies to the ways later artists, collectors, and fetishists of antiquity have picked up and elaborated on the ethnographic, racializing, and colonizing dimensions of ancient culture in their appropriation of ancient objects to pave the way for their own political interests.

Work consulted: E. Giffin, “Nicolas Cordier’s Il Moro: The African as ‘Christian Antiquity’ in Early Modern Rome” (MA Thesis, University of Washington, 2012) (link).

Source of image: Photo by Philip Harland, 2023 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

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