‘The Representation of Black People in European Art and Material Culture: An Examination of the Tucher Family Coat of Arms’

By Eleonora Grammatikou

The representation of Black people in European art and material culture offers profound insights into historical perceptions and representations of people from Africa and the African diaspora in Europe. This research is dedicated to a detailed analysis of the Tucher family coat of arms, which since 1345 depicts a Black person in profile. This case study aims to explore the complex development of the depiction of Black people from early modern times (14th-16th centuries) to the present day and to connect these findings to contemporary discourses.

This research project seeks to challenge common assumptions about early modern society and its pre-colonial notions of race and ethnicity. It aims to examine not only historical perceptions and representations of Black people in European art and culture but also the gender dynamics that influenced these depictions. The project will consider how gender roles and stereotypes in early modern society may have shaped the reception and interpretation of the Tucher family coat of arms. Specifically, the project attempts to analyse how the use of the Tucher family coat of arms as a material and symbolic artifact evolved from its historical role in early modern times to the present day, and what effects this evolution had on the construction of familial and social identities. A diachronic research approach allows for a critical reflection on historical contexts and structures while establishing connections to contemporary discourses.

The family coat of arms is of particular interest because it depicts a Black person in profile, traditionally believed to represent the head of St. Maurice. According to legend, Maurice was a commander of the Christian ‘Theban Legion’ in the 4th century and was martyred under Emperor Diocletian, earning veneration as a saint. This historical background presents a significant research interest, linking the coat of arms to religious beliefs. Additionally, the Tucher family symbolizes the diverse involvement of Nuremberg patrician families in foundations, art and long-distance trade. The family has been present in Nuremberg since the 14th century and has preserved a significant part of its cultural heritage, now managed by the Tucher Cultural Foundation. These circumstances provide an excellent basis for detailed investigation. The period between the 14th and 16th centuries was chosen as it marks the family`s economic success through long-distance trade, considered the heyday of the dynasty.

This interdisciplinary research project aims to reconstruct the historical use of the Tucher family coat of arms and contextualize its role within early modern society. It also seeks to relate this to current discourses on anti-racism and gender equality to highlight historical continuities and discontinuities in dealing with race and gender. The focus is on both the visual aspects of the coat of arms and its development as a materially and symbolically charged artefact.


Illustration of the coat of arms disc of the Tucher patrician family of Nuremberg from 1480 showing a Black person in profile, presumably St Maurice. This depiction is being analysed as part of an academic project to understand the historical and contemporary discourses on the representation of Black people in European art and material culture.


Kunstsammlung der Familie Tucher von Simmelsdorf