The Ceiling Painting in the Porcelain Chamber at Caputh House
Surrounded by insignias of power, costly porcelain objects and emblems for science and art, two female figures are the central focus of the ceiling painting: a white woman wearing a crown and a Black woman whose head is adorned by a bountiful wreath of flowers.
Deciphering the painting’s imagery leads to its interpretation as an allegory of the preeminence and superiority of the European continent in contrast to other parts of the world. This notion of being dominant over other societies and cultures had begun to take shape in antiquity and ‒ through military, colonial and cultural developments in the 16th and 17th centuries ‒ had established itself as part of the age’s accepted Eurocentric view of the world.
Overseas trading and colonial subjugation had become important resources for providing the material wealth of Europe’s elites. Brandenburg’s economically expanding and culturally flourishing electorate began to assimilate with this worldview following the Thirty Years’ War. Over time, Brandenburg-Prussia had also built up an ocean-worthy fleet, and in 1683 it had established its own trading base on the coast of West Africa.
Dorothea, Electress of Brandenburg (1636‒1689), commissioned the ceiling painting at Caputh House around 1685. The unique subject matter addresses a venture that was highly topical at the time and in which the sovereign’s wife undoubtedly took great interest ‒ Brandenburg’s overseas activities in the region that is now Ghana.