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Project highlighting the history of African people in England unveils portrait at St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury


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A specially-commissioned portrait of an African scholar who was the abbot of one of the county's most historic abbeys in the 7th century has gone on show.

The portrait of Abbot Hadrian, abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, was commissioned by English Heritage along with five others across the country showing six historic figures with African heritage.

Artist Clifton Powell with his portrait of Abbot Hadrian (640-710), an African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and the abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury Picture: English Heritage
Artist Clifton Powell with his portrait of Abbot Hadrian (640-710), an African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and the abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury Picture: English Heritage

Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England not only portrays people connected with English Heritage sites - aiming to shed new light on the long history of African people in England - but were also painted by artists who themselves identify as Black or mixed-heritage.

Abbot Hadrian's portrait was brought to life by Clifton Powell, who studied at the Jamaica School of Art in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to the UK in the late 1980s.

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s curatorial director, said: “African figures from the past have played significant roles at some of the historic sites in our care but many of their stories are not very well known.

"Placing their portraits on the walls of those sites is one way we hope to bring their stories to life and share them with a wider audience. We are also delighted to be working with these brilliant artists and seeing how they engage with the past, with all its complexities, is inspiring.”

Abbot Hadrian was an African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and was from Cyrenaica, a Roman/Byzantine province in North Africa.

Clifton with the other artists commissioned to create portraits for English Heritage's Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England Picture: English Heritage
Clifton with the other artists commissioned to create portraits for English Heritage's Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England Picture: English Heritage

His portrait has gone on display at St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, which is part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site, along with the cathedral and St Martin's Church.

The others depicted for the project around the country include Septimius Severus, an African-born Roman emperor who strengthened Hadrian’s Wall; James Chappell, a black 17th century servant at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire who saved the life of the then owner, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria’s African goddaughter, whose portrait has been returned to Osborne, Victoria’s seaside home on the Isle of Wight.

For more information on the project click here.

For more days out ideas across Kent click here.

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