This June, we look forward to celebrating a collection of classical bronze statuary and a unique collection of Blackamoor figures belonging to Melbourne based couturier Victoria Cascajo.

©Rennie Ellis/ Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

When considering Melbourne couture royalty, Victoria Cascajo is one of a handful of designers that have shaped Australian fashion history. Starting her career with Spanish Fashion house Balenciaga, she migrated to Australia in the 1960s and established her own boutique in South Yarra named Balenica, no doubt a nod to the beginnings of her career and to her mentor. Over her career, Cascajo was awarded various accolades for her race day designs, however she was best known for her daring design created for Lady Sonia McMahon in 1971, wife of then Prime Minster William McMahon, and worn to the White House for a state dinner with President Richard Nixon. The dress is still considered to be one of the most daring outfits to have been worn to the white house to this day and became a global sensation.

Like many designers, her exceptional taste was not exclusive to her own creations, and her Spanish roots fuelled her inclination to European flair for traditional statuary and particularly her love of Italian Blackamoor sculptures.

Blackamoor sculptures have had a difficult history, being confused with depictions of African American slavery. However, these figures’ beginnings can be traced to the 17th Century symbolizing the merging of two identities, ‘Black Africans’ and ‘Muslim Moors’, who were at this time actively trading on Mediterranean shores. By the 18th Century, Venetian noblemen employed Nubians as bodyguards, and they were celebrated for their athletic stamina. The figures depict the rich history of trade and immigration in Europe and are often laden with various gems, wearing Venetian silks, turbans, and modelled in acrobatic poses, evoking the spirit of trade, wealth, and their athletic nature.

AN IMPRESSIVE VENETIAN POLYCHROME PAINTED WOODEN BLACKAMOOR STATUE WITH SHELL BASIN, LATE 19TH CENTURY $3000-4000

These figures have been long admired for their aesthetic design, crafted from various materials including polychromed wood, porcelain, ceramic and bronze, and have formed part of many celebrity homes, such as Coco Chanel and Helena Rubenstein.

Two rare examples from Cascajo’s collection include a fine 19th Century hand painted, wood carved centre table with faux porphyry top and blackamoor column by the Testolini brothers, estimated to fetch $4,000-6,000 at auction, along with an impressive Venetian Blackamoor with shell , estimated at $3,000-4,000. Cascajo’s collection also features a small selection of patinated bronze figural fountain centrepieces.

CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts