08 An African Drummer Reworked using a cou cou stick (used for stirring stew), Granny’s quilt and a ‘clothes horse’

Brathwaite sits on a fabric-draped wooden clothes horse; he has two pans resting in front of him like drums and he holds wooden kitchen utensils as drumsticks

The original image of 'An African Drummer' was recorded by the Nuremberg merchant Christoph Weiditz in 1529 while he travelled through Spain.


Weiditz depicts 'An African Drummer', and the significance of his image rests partly in the occupation to which it testifies. There was a long tradition of African musicians playing at European courts and in processions such as this - Katherine of Aragon, Charles V’s aunt, famously brought Black trumpeters to England in her royal retinue.


It’s likely that Weiditz made this drawing himself, based on first hand observations from a journey he undertook accompanying Charles V through Spain. The image appeared as part of his Costume Book: a manuscript (unpublished) set of drawings that Weiditz made to illuminate the variety of dress, habits and customs of the peoples of world.


Costume books were explicitly intended to catalogue differences, and Weiditz’s notebook reminds us that recording difference was often a private and personal practice.  What constituted difference in the Renaissance? For Weiditz, piercings and featherwork, as much as skin colour or ethnicity, were what signified the drummer as interesting or exotic.

Original Work

Black man in Renaissance attire riding a horse; he holds two drumsticks and plays a pair of drums mounted on the horse

Christoph Weiditz, 'An African Drummer', 1529. Germanisches National Museum.


Hear the curator, Hannah Murphy, talk about this painting:

Renaissance Skin · An African Drummer


Location D map

Strand Campus, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Law Building, Somerset House, Strand
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