Origins and meaning of the Venetian moors

Q:The Venetian Blackamoor: can you give us an outline of the origin and the history of this jewel?

The Blackamoor, in the form of a brooch, pendant or earrings, according to some, dates back its origins to the eighteenth century.

However, I would dare say it is even older, dating back to the sixteenth-century, since it never depicted a slave but, as seen from the rich robes and jeweled turbans, a rich and perhaps even noble Oriental character.

In all probability perhaps it was born from the ingenuous idea of some skilled craftsman to translate, into jewel, the "moriscos" characters of the Orlando Furioso: Ferraù, Rodomonte, Sacripante, noble Muslim knights coming from al-Andalus, the Arab Spain. The antagonists of Orlando and Rinaldo, in short.


 Since then the term "moro", generically, designated the Saracens, the Ethiopians, the Turks, the Libyans, in practice,all those who came from the Middle East, we can even speculate that the origin is even more ancient and derives from the commercial relations that the Venetians had with these peoples, or even dates back to the cruel contact with the Middle Eastern knights in the service of Salah-ed-Din.

 It is certain that it was considered very chic, in the times of the Serenissima, to have dark-skinned service people, as can also be seen in the "Miracle of the Cross" painted by Vettor Carpaccio in 1498, where a "de casada" (of a private house) gondolier is almost in the foreground, with dark skin.

The historical figures who love the Moretti (BlackamoorJewlery)

Q:Returning to more recent times, the relationship of the so-called VIPs with this jewel? 

Of today's VIPs I do not know, as the term also applies to characters of very dubious taste.

Surely every Venetian aristocratic or high-bourgeois family has at least a blackamoor jewel in its jewelry box: it was a coveted and very welcome gift, and was passed from mother to daughter. All those who frequented a certain international society, inevitably, were fascinated by these little masterpieces.

 The Moors and Venice

Q:The Moors and Venice, a relationship lasting centuries: some anecdote of the history of the Serenissima Republic?

 Well, it would certainly be necessary to shed some light on the relationship between Venice and slavery.

Quoting myself from "Venice, the Grand Canal", where I recount the history of Palazzo Barzizza, which was probably a slave workshop, I would like to remind everyone that Venice had formally abolished slavery already in 876, under the Dogado of Orso Parteciaco and, from the chronicles of Andrea Dandolo, we know that the provision had been repeated by Doge Pietro Candiano in 960.

However, it is true that the market remained until many centuries later.  Slaves could be prey or prisoners of war but could also be redeemed.

In addition to those employed on the oars, slaves found work in the households as servants and were treated with justice and respect, protected by very harsh laws for their masters, who were forbidden to use violence, nourish and lodge them badly and even to make them work too much. If they did, the masters would have incurred in severe economic penalties.

The German historian Kretschmayr recalls this in his History of Venice, adding that "it is clearly demonstrated that there were paid voluntary slaves throughout the Middle Ages for a certain period of time ...".

In 1694 the Doge Francesco Morosini "the Peloponnesian", in his testament recalls, "four morish women slaves" and left them a hundred ducats each as a dowry in case they were married. It is certain that in many cases the border between servant or a too personal assistant was very fine.


Shakespeare's Othello and the Moor of Venice

Q:To avoid confusion and give a little clarity to our audience: can you distinguish well for us the figure of Othello by Shakespeare and blackamoor jewelry? 

Shakespeare's Othello in my opinion has nothing to do with the "Africans": he is a fantasy figure, since there has never been a Venetian admiral from the African or North African ethnic group in the history of the Serenissima.

Certainly not for racism, then still unknown, but for political reasons: while the army of land was entrusted to a leader of profession flanked by a Provveditore, the positions of command in the fleet were exclusive of the patriciate.

It is possible that the inspiration was a patrician of the Moro house, or even a Contarìni nicknamed "brown" for the hair or for the olive complexion.

Despite the building called "Desdemona" brings always a tear to passing tourists, there are not in the archives or in the chronicles a Moro or Contarini - neither Christopher nor Nicola - who were both victorious generals and uxoricide.

The mystery has not been revealed either by the Anglo-Venetian Rawdon Brown, supporter of the theory that identifies Cristoforo Moro and his second wife, a Da Lezze, nicknamed "White Demon", in the protagonists, nor by the good scholar of Udine Antonella Favaro , who dedicated herself to this with enthusiasm.

Why did the Italian press call Venetian Moretti by the English term "Blackamoor”?

Q:Returning to the controversy of the last few days unleashed against the Princess of Kent, did you think that the tabloids were trying to make news at all costs?

 The tabloids have created the controversy, since, in fact, they clutch to anything to make news.

The English Royal family, including future members, has a high sense of humor that prevents them from being offended by similar crimes. In fact I do not believe in the offense or the apology.

Q:Many Italian newspapers (Il Gazzettino di Venezia excluded), which followed the wave slavishly reporting the news without inquiring, have lost another chance to defend the true Made in Italy? 

Definitely. There is also a kind of widespread counter-snobbery, so if you can attack the aristocracy (decayed or not) and perhaps accuse it of all the ills of the world, all the pretexts are good.

I think we should always document well and, especially in the case of more or less direct attacks on exclusive and specific Venetian products, defend our excellence to the bitter end.

Especially after absurd statements, and undoubtedly mounted by tabloids across the Channel, like the one the Prosecco makes your teeth rot. It would be better to apply the Venetian proverb: "prima de parlar, tasi." (before you talk, shut up!)


We greet you both as usual: with the biggest hug in the world!



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