Otto Friedrich Graf von der Groeben

In 1681, Otto Friedrich Graf von der Groeben (1656‒1728) entered into the service of the “Great Elector”, Frederick William of Brandenburg (1620‒1688). Before taking up this position, he had travelled to many countries in and outside Europe. As head of a Brandenburg expedition to Africa, he set sail in 1682 with two ships headed to the “Gold Coast” (modern-day Ghana). Construction of the fortification “Groß Friedrichsburg” was intended to protect a new trading base established there. From this location, the “Brandenburgisch-Afrikanische Compagnie” (BAC) traded in gold, ivory and rubber, in addition to enslaved peoples. In the following decades, Brandenburg-Prussia trafficked in slavery, taking 10,000‒30,000 Africans (men, women and children) across the Atlantic by ship.

In the portrait, von der Groeben is shown holding a ground plan of the Groß Friedrichsburg fort, which he hands to a black man. The inscription refers to the African territory’s confiscation on 1 January 1683. In contrast to von der Groeben, the man in the background is not depicted as an individual. He represents the people of the region where Brandenburg erected its trading base.


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