In Jean Devisse’s essay “A Sanctified Black: Maurice” (originally published in The Image of the Black in Western Art) his area of focus is presenting the multiple black figures and representations of Saint Maurice that were created in the early Middle Ages and fifteenth century. While the depiction of Saint Maurice as a black knight or a white knight varied by geographical region and time period, his importance in the cities of Magdeburg and Halle cannot be ignored, nor can the business of religious relics that followed. Magdeburg was the center of art and representation for the black Saint Maurice, creating statues, paintings, and religious pieces in which he was presented as black (though not necessarily always with the usual ethnic features). Then beginning with Ernest of Saxony, this dynamic changed from one of religious reverence to one of creating a business out of forced pilgrimage and taxes levied within the church. He first began by taxing the people of several churches in the Magdeburg area in order to gather funds to create a pilgrimage and to collect many relics, which he stored at the castle he built in the name of Saint Maurice. Ernest of Saxony successor, Albert of Brandenburg, took this idea and expanded it tenfold, realizing the pilgrimage and centering it in the city of Halle. There he built many buildings and monuments to Saint Maurice (all while maintaining the black representation) and also collected even more taxes for the pilgrimage, to display and house relics, and for his own personal greed. This section of Devisse’s essay just goes to show how quickly the purpose of art can change, going from pure religious value to becoming a business mission.
Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017
Sources: Pinder, Kymberly N., Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History (pp. 37-65)
Photo: Wally Gobetz, NYC – Metropolitan Museum of Art – Saint Maurice, https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/1700024193/in/photolist-3Ae4XX-CcFqe8-CcFwq6-CEs6DD-zncQ19-pYiTcF-5JxiZC-5Jxj17