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PAINTING OUR PAST: THE AFRICAN
DIASPORA IN ENGLAND

ENGLISH HERITAGE
CORBRIDGE MUSEUM & ROMAN TOWN

A portrait of Septimius Severus from a series of a series of six commissioned by England Heritage, depicting historic figures from the African diaspora whose stories have contributed to England's rich history.

ON  EXHIBITION AT CORBRIDGE MUSEUM 

- VISIT

Septimius
Severus



ARTIST'S STATEMENT

I was drawn to Severus because of the parallels with my own mixed heritage status (Nigerian, Spanish and German), and this made me reflect on how people might imagine someone like us to look like. I wanted to go beyond painting Rome’s African Emperor, to portray a complex individual by paying attention to his personality and how he chose to be seen in his coins, statues and architecture. Historically black people have had little control over their portrayal.  Severus embodied and altered the image of the Roman Empire.

oil on canvas, 80x100cm

Septimius Severus.jpg
The Project

THE PROJECT


Painting
our
Past

THE AFRICAN DIASPORA IN ENGLAND

The Subject

THE SUBJECT

 
S.
Severus

Septimius Severus.jpg
The sources say...

HIS FEATURES - (nose) short and slightly turned-up | naturally curly hair | small man, but powerful and energetic | eyes look deep and searching, sometimes also appears brooding and abstractedsmall, but physically powerful, a man of great energy, used to living under rough conditions and capable of hard physical effort | quick to understand a problem and act on it | 

HIS DREAMS - the roman empire, itself, personified, approached him and saluted | someone took him up to a high mountain, from which he could see Rome and all of the world |as he gazed down on all the lands and sea, he laid his hands on them as one might on the instrument capable of 

playing all modes and they all sang together | the provinces sang together to the 

accompaniment of the lyre and flute

The Visual Narrative

THE VISUAL NARRATIVE

Into
the
Detail


coins
for a 
story


 

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LEGIO XIIII GEMINA MARTIA

Ref. SS’s military background

RESTITUTOR URBIS

Convey how SS narrated his rise to power as loyal avenging of Pertinax and restoration of the city.

DOUBLE PORTRAIT WITH CRESCENT

Ref. importance of Julia Domna to SS’ rise

SS ON HORSEBACK

Ref. a popular image projecting an active military leader

BACCHUS & HERCULES - COLONISATION OF HELIOPOLIS

Ref. Some argue that Bacchus and Hercules were seen as conquering gods and have particularly strong links to Africa

VICTORY TROPHY & SEATED CAPTIVES

Ref.  War against Parthian Empire, Arab & Adiab and slavery aspect of each victory.

The Method

THE METHOD

Portraying
S. Severus


The Portrait Process

 

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My approach to the project defined each stage - I wanted to voice how Severus chose to represent himself and use his life to place British history within a global framework. This was important to me as historically black people in Europe have had little control over their representation. I began with reading studies of Severus’s portraiture to try and understand how Septimius chose to portray himself. This research defined which visual sources were significant and interesting for the project. I started with an awareness that the coins would give the nearest impression of how he looked.

I understood that the “young military soldier” type, his earlier coin, gave the most idiosyncratic representation of him. I identified consistencies in features across these coins and used these to sketch a side profile (image) of these features that would inform the features of his face front on. I gathered together images of statues of Septimius in the round which had been identified by historians as particularly good/ standard types. Then referencing my numastic portrait sketch began to group features that seemed consistent). From this I created various sketches. 

When thinking about the stylisation and the colouring for the portrait I wanted to reference Roman visual culture and so with the support of the curator and historian researched frescos, in particular we looked at the frescos at Dura-Europos which are contemporaneous with Severus. They seemed to bring as much light and colour into their work as possible. 

 

As I was concerned to voice Septimius’s self- representation, I felt it was important to include images of visual references I had used I focused on two portrait types - the young military type (featured on the right arm of his chair) which bears his idiosyncratic features and the Antoninus type (on his left) which marks his self-adoption into the Antonine Dynasty. 

Despite giving attention to Septimius’s self- representation, ultimately the portraits varies from his concerns as it represents Septimius as a person, a sum of his culture, context, personality and achievements. I wanted to define him in a way that comes as close as possible to how the Romans would have seen him or rather understood the image of himself that he was putting out there. 


paint,
wash, scrape.


 

the

sketchbook


(AN EXTRACT)

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