The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Writing Art History Activity Now Due on Canvas!
Our Scalar Compendium
Alison Saar, Rouse, 2012












The True Size of Africa











The Image of the Black in Western Art

Dominique de Menil began a research project and photo archive called The Image of the Black in Western Art in the 1960s.

  • Now located at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, the archive has more than 26,000 images of black people in Western art
Black in Western Art video











"It is something of a shock to discover that since classical antiquity, men and women of African descent have been a constant presence in European works of art. Just as startling, black people have often been depicted much more sympathetically than the historical relationship between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe would suggest" - Henry Louis Gates Jr.

  • Now located at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, the archive has more than 26,000 images of black people in Western art
Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art
St. Maurice, 1240, Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany










Artist unknown, The Magi Approaching Herod, from an illustrated Life of Christ with devotional supplements (text in Latin and English), East Anglia (possibly Norfolk), England, about 1190 – 1200 and about 1480 – 1490.

Artist unknown, Initial Q: A Woman with Bread Loaves; Initial S: The Baptism of a Muslim, from Feudal Customs of Aragon (text in Navarro-Aragonese), Huesca, Spain, about 1290 – 1310; author, Vidal de Canellas.











Andrea Mantengna, Detail of the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi, 1465 - 1474.

Andrea Mantegna, The Adoration of the Magi, Mantua, Italy, c. 1495 – 1505, distemper on linen.











Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1505 - 1515.











Feast in the House of Levi

Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi, 1573. Oil on canvas approx, 18' 6" X 42' 6".











  • The practice of slavery has been known throughout human history, in all groups, and predates the historical record
  • In the 16th century, most slaves in Europe were white
  • The majority were held in Mulism-dominated states
  • These slaves were indentured = they were able to work or pay their way out of enslavement
Annibale Caracci, Portrait of an Enslaved Woman, 1580.

Jacob Jordaens, Moses and his Ethiopian wife Sephora, c. 1650.












Chattel slavery developed in colonial America and is a system that denies the humanity of the enslaved through laws that argue the characteristics of personal property. Under this system, all children born to slaves are also the property of the enslaver; these children are enslaved; and the enslaved are denied the right to own property, marry, or pursue happiness.

Artemisia Gentileschi, David and Bathsheba, 1645 - 1650.










John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775, 1786.











Slavery was outlawed in France in 1794. Benoist's piece became a symbol for equality, albeit problematically.

Portrait of a Negresse

Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of a Negrese, 1800.











Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with a Slave, 1839 - 1840.
Eugene Delacroix, Women of Algiers, 1834.











Transatlantic Slave Trade
1440 - 1883
  • "No less than 12.5 million Africans displaced to the Carribean and North, South, and Central America between 1500 and the 1860s" (Farrington, 15).
  • "The earliest record of a black presence in the Global North dates to 1526, when a group of African captives was brought from Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to coastal South Carolina or to Georgia's Sapelo Sound" (Farrington, 15).
  • About 20 people from the Ndongan Kingdom (present day Angola) landed at Jamestown in 1619, a year before the arrival of the Mayflower. However a census from from the same year makes note of 32 Virginians who were from Africa.
  • In 1619 alone, 36 ships full of captives crossed the Atlantic (Painter, Creating Black Americans, 26).
Faith Ringgold, We Came to America, 1997.











The Middle Passage and the Triangular Trade










The Atlantic Slave Trade


The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

(see also:








Tom Feelings, from The Middle Passage, 1995.
Romare Bearden, Roots Odyssey, 1976.











Amy Sherald, An Ocean Away, 2020











  • Over 2 million of those who were forced aboard ships in Africa died before seeing land again.
  • Roughly 2/3 of the captives were male.
  • Between 1492 and 1867 a minimum of 10 million Africans were transported to the Americas against their will.
  • Enslavers embarked on 27,000 expeditions - about 170 ships per year.
  • About 95% of those who were kidnapped were forced to labor on sugar plantations in the Carribean and Brazil (which alone enslaved 4 to 5 million people).
    • The work was so brutal that people who were enslaved on forced labor camps producing sugar did not live long and were typically unable to reproduce enough children to replace their numbers.
Howardena Pindell, Autobiography Water/Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts, 1989.





















The Slave Ship

  • At least 2.4 million kidnapped people died crossing the Atlantic, about 15 to 20%, a journey that took seven weeks to more than two months depending on destination and number of stops in between.
    • Mortality rates on the ships could be as high as 50%, with English ships having the highest rates of death.
    • Mortality rates could be as low as 5%, with Portugese ships in the 19th century having the lowest mortality.
  • Millions more died in "seasoning camps" upon arrival.
  • Massachusetts became the first English colony to legalize the practice of enslaving other humans in 1641.
    • By the 1680s, the practice of enslaving people for life become much more common than indentured servitude.
Joseph Mallard William Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840.