Journal article Open Access
By taking the basic idea of democratic ideals about equal coexistence and inclusion of all society members as a theoretical starting point, I focus on those (historical) social processes that contradict this vision, such as forms of group-focused discrimination. From an art-historical perspective, it seems conclusive to proceed from the artistic representation of human beings. This article asks for the artistic methods of early stereotyping in pre-modern European visual culture, which consolidated already existing practices and transmitted them as visual knowledge to subsequent generations. Benefiting from sociological reflections on the visual methods of social discrimination, these insights are brought to bear for art-historical considerations on the representation of Black people. The approach shows a deconstructive artistic access to Black body figurations, which correspond to already prevalent stereotyping processes and include forms of homogenization and fragmentation. The text argues for an analytical differentiation into group and single figure representations. In this way, the question can be answered whether possible conventions were resorted to when artists depicted Black individuals in a collective. Further, it discusses the fragmented use of the head in the heraldic tradition, which has subsequently been adopted as stereotyped form for the conceptualization of Black figures in some narrative artistic compositions. Finally, those strategies are discussed particularly in the iconography of the prominent so- called “Leg Miracle”––legend of Sts. Cosmas and Damian described in the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine. The different artistic realizations of the theme not only confirm the incorporation of the practices mentioned, but furthermore demonstrate a European perception of Black bodies as a collective marker, which is still a constitutive element in racist knowledge formation today. The direct argumentative involvement of the artists shows their participation in social processes of perception and knowledge formation, instead of excluding them, especially where their artistic practice is concerned.