These figures, in their brightly coloured drapery, plumed turbans and laced and embellished boots, are typical examples of the Blackamoor figures and busts that were prized for their exoticism during the 18th Century and often decorated in vibrant colours and dazzling gilding.
Representations of blackamoors became increasingly popular from the mid-17th Century with the success of the trade routes, particularly in Venice. It was during this period that noble Italian families began to employ Africans as bearers at court, where they could be gazed upon in their exotic native dress, and as domestic servants. Blackamoors were often freestanding and life-size figures supporting candelabra, torchères or jardinières. They were sometimes placed either side of doorways as footmen might be and often carried trays, as the present examples.
One of the chief proponents of the Blackamoor figure was the famed artist Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), who studied sculpture in his native Belluno before being apprenticed in Venice to the Genoese sculptor Filippo Parodi (1630-1702). Brustolon carved magnificent and theatrical sculptural furniture, inspired by his time in Rome where the High Baroque figures of Bernini influenced his style and taste. Brustolon’s most well-known Blackamoor figural carving is a vase stand also incorporating Classical river gods, Cerberus and the Hydra in the Palazzo Rezzonico, Venice.
A similar pair of Blackamoors sold from the collection of Lord and Lady White of Hull at Christie’s, New York, 30 April 1997, lot 237. These figures are dressed in gold robes, but wear the same pointed boots and are depicted in the same stance, carrying trays as the present figures most likely would have also been. Another comparable pair, also in gold robes but with similar plumed turbans, are in the Bartolozzi collection.