Abstract

This article offers a brief examination of race, religion, and colonialism in medieval and early modern Europe by considering carved coconut chalices and ivories commissioned in continental Europe between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries as well as literary evidence from courtly romance. I argue that coconut cups, ivories, and other European devotional objects composed of imported luxury goods should be understood as hybrid objects whose African origins would have been recognized by European viewers as among the most precious materials available and that they were left unpainted to emphasize that exoticism. Only after colonial trading posts were established along the African shoreline in the late fifteenth century would the narrative of Christian colonial triumphs begin overwriting the African origins of coconuts and ivories depicting Jesus. The relative disinterest of Western medievalists in these objects’ African origins—not to mention the historical cultures, literatures, and accomplishments of medieval Africans—represents a frustrating lapse in the scholarship, a whitewashing of European and Christian history that must slowly be rewritten through the exchanges of trade in goods, ideas, and human bodies between Africa, Asia, and Europe prior to the 1490s.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-5413
Print ISSN
2165-5405
Pages
pp. 395-408
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-11
Open Access
No
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