Spotting a Black knight in a Renaissance painting was endlessly inspiring for Curtis Talwst Santiago
'I just kept trying to zoom in on this pixelated image to see this knight. Is he really a Black knight?'
Curtis Talwst Santiago is an artist who is breaking through. Born in Edmonton to Trinidadian-Canadian parents, he's become known internationally for his Infinity series: vintage jewel boxes that he fills with tiny dioramas, creating worlds that explore history, fantasy and Black identity.
Recently, Santiago began expanding his frame. He's creating paintings, drawings and sculpture, and he's relocated to Lisbon, Portugal. While there, he's researching histories of Black royalty, Moorish dynasties and his own ancestral heritage.
In this clip from In the Making, Santiago travels to a palace outside of Lisbon to see a painting that has captured his attention since first seeing it online two years earlier.
Watch the clip:
The painting he's there to see is "Chafariz d'El-Rey (The King's Fountain)", a Renaissance painting by an unknown artist depicting Moorish Portugal sometime around 1570-1580. In this painting is a figure of a Black knight riding a horse that caught Santiago's eye and sparked a creative curiosity that has inspired the whole body of work he has been making in Portugal. "I just kept trying to zoom in on this pixelated image to see this knight — to be like, is he really a Black knight?"
There was another detail that tied him to the painting: "Finding out that he's wearing the Santiago of the Red Cross and my last name being Santiago."
"And there's something so romantic about this painting."
In the clip above from Santiago's episode of In the Making, host Sean O'Neill explains: "Much of what we know about the reign of The Moors is discovered in works of art and although the artist of this painting is unknown it tells us a lot about the Lisbon of its time." Santiago is struck by the new non-pixelated details he's now able to see.
"My understanding of the painting becomes dramatically different when I can actually see the interactions going on," he says.
A little cluster of social interaction in the painting catches his attention. "These two men here are making conversation. I'm drawn to these moments of mixed race interaction where there doesn't appear to be a hierarchy. These are things you can't tell until you see it."
In person, the knight is still a powerful force in the painting for Santiago. "I could stare at him forever."
What is In the Making?
In the Making is an immersive journey inside the creative process. The documentary series follows host Sean O'Neill across the country and around the world alongside some of Canada's leading artists as they bring new work to life and face pivotal moments of risk and reward. All eight episodes are available to stream online now, with individual episodes broadcasting weekly each Friday at 8:30pm (9pm NT) on CBC.
Each episode follows an artist from across the creative spectrum — visual art, film, music, dance, theatre — with a unique approach to art-making and something to say about the world. Sean visits artists at home, in studio, backstage, and in the field, giving viewers rare access to intimate creative spaces and inspiring moments of realization.
Watch the trailer:
Stream every episode of In the Making now, or watch Friday at 8:30pm (9pm NT) on CBC TV.