Black Men as Lantern Carriers at the New Palace
There are several pairs of figures carrying lanterns among the 54 sandstone sculptures that ornament the balustrades on the side of the New Palace facing the garden: Romans and Teutons, as well as two Black men. The decorative figures placed along the railing were created between 1892 and 1893, based on sculptor Walter Schott’s (1861–1938) models. They were commissioned by Emperor William II (1859–1941), who contributed ideas to the terrace’s redesign. The representative driveway was intended as an effective stage to welcome guests on their state visits. Until the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Wilhelm II accompanied representatives of European royal courts down this driveway for honorary parades.
The sculptures on the balustrades reference 18th-century figural decoration while also incorporating William II’s views and understanding of the world. At a time when the German Empire already controlled colonies in Africa, William put his own historical and mythological presentation of different peoples on display, front and centre, at the New Palace. There is also an indirect echo of his colonial and imperial ambitions. The portrayals of the Black men as lantern carriers ‒ dressed in garments recalling an idealized, classical style of antiquity ‒ strikingly differ from those produced as of the late 19th century, which emerged in parallel to the inhumane conditions of European Völkerschauen (human zoos) pandering to perceptions of the “exotic”. Whether or not Schott worked with live models is not known, but it is possible. A group of 60 people of colour, presumably made up mostly of servants and goods carriers, were documented in Berlin in 1882.