Sledge from a German Nobleman’s Collection
The sledge’s runners are crowned by the bust of a Black man wearing a turban and star pendant on a gold chain. The object recalls carousels that had been designed for the great princely courts since the 16th century, on which human riders on horseback, in sledges or small carriages would attempt to stab or shoot such figures. The sculptural targets represented allusions to the enemy, reinforced by a perceived threat from the Ottoman Empire and the “Turkish Wars” (until 1699) that had been festering for three centuries. Rivalry expressed during carousel rides continued far into the 18th century. This sledge’s sculpture is likely one of only a few surviving props that exemplify such competitiveness.
The carved head of the Black man was a sign of power and prestige for the sledge’s owner, whose coat of arms decorates the front of the seat. Noble rulers relied on such representations to demonstrate their alleged claims to universal power, adopted in keeping with their prominent positions in the divine world order. Such sculptures that eagerly portrayed a non-Christian world “turned upside down” came to be familiar motifs during Carnival season sledge riding.
This sledge is presumed to have been made around 1740. It entered the Prussian Palaces collection in the mid-20th century.