Today we will visit Angelo Soliman, a man of remarkable intelligence.
Article Source here
Picture Source here
ANGELO SOLIMAN is probably best known in his fictional incarnation as the disgraced African servant boy in “The Man Without Qualities”, Robert Musil’s novel about the end of the Austrian monarchy. The real Soliman mixed in Vienna’s high society. His ignominy came in death rather than life.
Soliman, the subject of an exhibition at the Wien Museum in Vienna, arrived in Austria as a slave from western Africa, where he was born in 1721. There was a fashion for “House Moors” at this time and Soliman was apparently an exceptional man. He acted as a soldier and adviser in one princely household and then came to Vienna in 1753 to serve as a valet and tutor in another. There were some 40 African inhabitants of Vienna in the 18th century—many of them noble servants like Soliman. He successfully integrated into Austrian society, joining an elite Free Mason’s lodge to which Mozart belonged and strolling in the capital’s tree-lined Augarten with Emperor Joseph II.
In modern terms, he might be seen as the perfect immigrant. But after he died his stuffed skin was put on display in the imperial natural history collection, a fate that reflected a deep ambivalence towards nonwhites. In Vienna this ambivalence continues to this day, as illustrated in a video in the exhibition of interviews with Africans now living in the Austrian capital.
“Soliman: An African in Vienna” devotes as much attention to this racial context as to the former slave’s life. Pictures, documents and household objects from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries portray Africa and the Orient as both frightful and fascinating. African men are depicted as savages, docile servants or courageous fighters in the Ottoman armies that besieged Europe’s south-eastern flank.
Soliman’s life is the best-documented of any non-European in Vienna, yet his biography remains sketchy. This exhibition provides few details of his daily life. We know for whom he worked, that he won and lost a fortune in cards, and that he married a French general’s widowed sister, with whom he had a daughter. But about much else we can only speculate.
Musil re-imagined Soliman more than a century later in his famous novel, which captures in exquisite detail the gradations of inclusion and exclusion in Austria-Hungary. His Soliman, who is employed by a Jewish industrialist, is dismissed in disgrace after the revelation of an affair with a white servant girl. The real Soliman could no more escape the colour of his skin. The man who had charmed society with his talent at cards and skill at languages (he spoke six) was reduced to the specimen of a noble savage. His daughter sought in vain for a proper burial, and his body remained in the imperial collection until its destruction in a fire in 1848.
Vienna today is a far cry from the metropolis Soliman inhabited or the one Musil imagined, its face transformed by waves of immigrants from the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East. Some 22,000 Africans now live in the capital. Eight of them share their experiences in video interviews at the end of this show. Kandolo Embe-Tonton, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, dramatically straddles both white and black worlds, working as an officer in a police force that is often criticised as racist. He cites his white stepmother as proof that Austria is a country open to change. Soliman, he tells exhibit visitors, “realised his potential within the possibilities of the day, and we can do the same.”
Thanks for your attention.