The Image Of The “Other” – Black People, Jews, Muslims And Gypsies In The Western Art In The Morning Of The Modern Era 1453-1800

I started some time ago writing about Romanian authors and their writings. Today I want to continue my project by presenting you the book “The image of the Other”. The title is a bit long but it reflects exactly the content of the book.

Now some technical facts about it, it was initially published on the 16th of October 2014 in Paris, Hazan, coll. La Chaire du Louvre under the name L’image de l’Autre. Noirs, Juifs, Musulmans et «Gitans» dans l’art occidental des Temps Modernes. It was published in Romania in 2017 at Humanitas publishing house, translated in Romanian by Anca Oroveanu and Ruxandra Demetrescu. It has 215 pages, among which you can find text and pictures reflecting the art of famous painters from the above mentioned period.

Now regarding the content of the book and what I can say about it, it is a study towards otherness, characterised by using paintings and analysing them. It is a model of using art for making a point, and the writer uses it wisely. It talks about pictures of famous artists like Caravaggio and illustrates various comments over them through poems, letters etc written at the time, among which you can find poems of Ovidiu. A relevant example of otherness and imaging is the painting called “The fortune teller” created by Caravaggio in two copies, one exposed in Paris and one in Rome. The picture catches the image of a rich young man and a fortune teller who is trying to guess his future. The painting, as it is presented in the book, has various meanings, like the attraction among the two of them illustrated by the fact that the fortune teller does not look at his hand but at his face, the cultural difference between them, and a detail observed by a commentator that the fortune teller is trying to steal his ring (I honestly haven’t seen such detail in the painting as much as I have looked at it, probably because I am not an expert in analysing paintings or maybe because such detail doesn’t exist and the commentator used his imagination).

The fortune Teller

The main subject discussed in the book is represented by the four figures of otherness: Jews, gypsies, black people, and Muslims. The author uses paintings of various artists, not only Caravaggio or Dürer. This is, in my opinion, a technique that accentuates even more the principle of otherness.

Now, in order to be clear, we talk about otherness when we talk about the relationship of the one’s self with other persons, other objects, other situations more or less opposite. The other cannot exist without the self. The self is the “Other” for the “Other”, and the “Other” is the self for himself.

I will continue in the writing of the article with the speech of Andrei Oisteanu, a literary genius in my opinion, from the launching of the book in Bucharest on the 21st of April 2018:

“The keywords of the book are <<image>>, <<imaginary>>, <<otherness>>, <<cliche>>, being parts of a great mechanism called imagology and which tightens even more the domain from anthropology to visual anthropology, cultural anthropology. It is a simple definition of imagology – the way in which a community sees another community. From this simplicity derive complications. The famous book of Eduard Said, <<Orientalism>> and the one of Zveltan Teodorov <<The conquering of America – the problem of the other>> were the ones that marked the birth of imagology. All three are foreigners in another country. Said is Palestinian who lives in the USA, Teodorov is a french who lives in France and Stoichita is a Romanian who lives in Switzerland. Maybe this is not just a coincidence. They themselves have faced otherness. We should warn the reader that this is not a book about jew, that not the Jews, black people, Muslims and gypsies are the main hero, but the Europeans, because in their eyes is created the image of the above categories.”

The speech is much more vast, as it is his experience in literature, but I will resume it to the above so not to make the article too long.

One of my favourite quotes from the book is the following:

“I use to tell my friends that the inventor of painting , according to the formula of the poets, must have been that Narcis  which was transformed into a flower, cause if it’s true that the painting is the flower of all the arts, than the entire story of Narcis fits perfectly to painting. What would you say that it means losing something else than to embrace with art that surface of the fountain? ”

I will finish by presenting the opinion of the author about the book, as he is the one who matters in this picture:

“The book addresses, in an interdisciplinary perspective, to the crossing of the history of art and history of religion, the great problem of <<representing the unrepresented>>. The secret confessions of the great Spanish mystics, like Santa Tereza from Avila or Saint John of the Cross, are deciphered in the context of the artistic sensibility of the era, as a great part of the Spanish picture of the XVI and XVII centuries is addressed in the light of the experience of mystics. As in instrument of spreading some exceptional experiences, (most of them strictly personal and even secret), the painting reaches its real vocation only when the ecclesiastic authority manages to recover, incorporate and, in a way, to <<tam>> the mystical frenzy of the XVI century. The painted image becomes a communication instrument, but also for controlling the ecstasy.”


I had the honour of meeting the author and obtaining an autograph. It was the first time I got an autograph from a writer (I am not quite an autograph person) and I am proud of it.

© picnicontheshelf, May 4, 2018

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