Borrowed from Bard College’s motto, “Dabo Tibi Coronam Vitae” (I Will Give You the Crown of Life,) this project takes the theme “To Be Named” as it literally applied to those individuals enslaved by many of the Hudson Valley’s most historic families, including the household Dr. Samuel Bard, who, in 1815, put out a newspaper ad for “a Negro man named Cesar, somewhat deranged, [who] may be wandering about perhaps near Poughkeepsie.” As of yet, we know little more about Cesar other than he may have had a “deranged” notion to flee the household of the man who had named him after the most notorious military general in Western history, who infamously took Rome from a Republic to an Empire. It is said that in order to cross the Adriatic Sea undetected, Julius Caesar once disguised himself as a slave. Could the Black man named Cesar have taken his destiny as seriously as his namesake and disguised himself as a free man in order to cross over to freedom undetected?
“Dabo Tibi Coronam Vitae/C(a)esar as St. Maurice as St. Stephen” consists of three silk-screened panels approximately 12’ long x 4’ wide depicting an amalgamation of three paintings of historical figures; St. Stephen, St. Maurice and Julius Caesar. Centered on the enraptured figure of Jacobus Buy’s 1795 “Stoning of St. Stephen”, the face of the first Christian Martyr (and Bard College’s patron Saint) is substituted with one of the earliest depictions of Africans in Christian Art, that of St. Maurice by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his Workshop from 1520. The transformed Black figure of St. Maurice as St. Stephen holds in his hand the head of Julius Caesar as depicted in “The Death of Julius Caesar” by Ludwig Gottlieb Portman from1801.
As a person of mixed race, I am always sensitive to the evidence of cultural hybridization that is the result of colonization and slavery – events which make up the DNA of this country, as well my own.