I'm trying to identify the drawing (an unfinished sketch for a painting?) described in this Donald Justice poem. Possibly an African in upper-class dress, with a horse and second person who's portrait has not been included.

Anonymous Drawing

A delicate young Negro stands
With the reins of a horse clutched loosely in his hands;
So delicate, indeed, that we wonder if he can hold the spirited creature beside him
Until the master shall arrive to ride him.
Already the animal's nostrils widen with rage or fear.
But if we imagine him snorting, about to rear,
This boy, who should know about such things better than we,
Only stands smiling, passive and ornamental, in a fantastic livery
Of ruffles and puffed breeches,
Watching the artist, apparently, as he sketches.
Meanwhile the petty lord who must have paid
For the artist's trip up from Perugia, for the horse, for the boy, for everything here, in fact, has been delayed,
Kept too long by his steward, perhaps, discussing
Some business concerning the estate, or fussing
Over the details of his impeccable toilet
With a manservant whose opinion is that any alteration at all would spoil it.
However fast he should come hurrying now
Over this vast greensward, mopping his brow
Clear of the sweat of the fine Renaissance morning, it would be too late:
The artist will have had his revenge for being made to wait,
A revenge not only necessary but right and clever—
Simply to leave him out of the scene forever.


2 Answers 2


I took the subject to be a stableboy or (less likely) jockey. Black jockeys are a pretty common theme in southern American pop art, often intended, as Wikipedia tactfully put it, "to evoke an Old South or equestrian ambiance". A less tactful person might point out the evocation of a certain hierarchal social order, including a particularly graphic depiction of exactly who is on the bottom*.

Justice himself was born and raised in Florida, where he would have had plenty of opportunity to be exposed to this flavor of American pop art. However, if I'm interpreting him right, (which by my history with poetry seems unlikely), he seems to be taking a subversive view of it.

Because of that, and the name of the poem, I suspect the particular work of art itself was some manner of pop art, and not considered by the author to be of enough consequence to call out by name.

* - Tact on such matters has never really been my strongest suit.

  • I think the reference to jodhpurs ("... in a fantastic livery; Of ruffles and puffed breeches") strongly suggests jockey rather than mere stableboy of groom. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:34
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    Before Justice's time, but perhaps not yet ccompletely out of mind: Kentucky Derby's Forgotten Black Jockeys Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:37
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    @PieterGeerkens - Do stablehands often have to ride the horses some, or do they just walk them? (As an Okie, of course I was raised around horses, but not that effete racist southern stuff. This is quarterhorse territory; where the cowboys are Indians.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:40
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    Don't look at me - everything I know about horses is from reading Dick Francis novels. Actually not quite true - a former girlfriend used to talk a bit about her time training thoroughbreds; 0 to 30 in three strides. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:41

Sounds like a renaissance type painting with a young black page boy. It was a fashion in Europe for wealthy people to have an exotic young manservant. A number of paintings of the era show young black boys dressed up in fashionable attire.

Perugia is in Italy though a quick glance at the only artist I could find from there yielded no negro page boy results.

The puffed breeches are more likely to be 16th/17th century fashion than jodhpurs and the ruffles suggest an earlier fashion too.

The Dutch Zwarte Piet costume would be a convenient image to see what is being described.

  • 1
    +1 Also reference to Renaissance in poem
    – user31561
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 11:50

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