Looking back 500 years, one can see the late 15th century as a major turning point in history. When Portuguese navigators first arrived on the shores of West Africa, the two continents of Europe and Africa began interacting in new ways. After a very brief period of mutual respect and commercial exchange, European traders quickly moved to exploit the region’s natural resources—including human labor—which became the basis for the massive slave trade that eventually affected twenty million Africans.
The ten works of European and African art in this gallery, dating from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 20th, have been selected from SAM’s collection as examples of these interactions over time. Bringing them together in this context reminds us that works of art contain multiple meanings and associations that can be viewed through different perspectives. Even small works connect us with a long and complex history that has shaped many aspects of our world today.
Image: The Head of an African, ca. 1830, Paul-Jean Flandrin, oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 8 x 6 3/4 in., European Painting Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.112.