Isaac Mendez Belisario - The National Library of Jamaica

Isaac Mendez Belisario

Born in the city of London between 1790-1800, Isaac Mendez Belisario was the son of a prosperous merchant and probably the grandson of a famous Rabbi of the same name. He was an etcher and painter.

“Koo, Koo or Actor Boy”

An Italian Jew, Belisario is best known for the etching of the interior of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. This painting was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1815. It was later hung in the Bevis Marks Synagogue where it still can be seen, having survived the bombings of World War II, which devastated much of the surrounding areas.

Perhaps one of the last works by Belisario was his painting of the famous actress Ellen Kean in 1832. Not long after its completion he left London, sailing for Kingston, Jamaica, where he had close relatives. Once he settled he made himself known as a very competent landscape painter, using mostly water-colours, but he also accepted commissions for portraits, which were said to be of a high quality bearing “striking likenesses” to the subjects.

Two years later Belisario gained national attention with a set of twelve lithographs, which became known as “Sketches of Character in illustration of the Habits, Occupation and Costume of the Negro Population in the island of Jamaica.”

“Queen or “Maam” of the Set-Girls”

Seven of the pictures were used for stamps (and two souvenir sheets) to mark Christmas 1975 and 1976. The series was immensely popular with Jamaicans. Reproductions of these are used extensively in publications on Jamaican culture and festivals.

It is not known exactly when Isaac Belisario died nor where he was buried.

A list of some of his works in his “Sketches of Character…” are:

“Red Set-Girls, and Jack-in-the-Green”
“Queen or “Maam” of the Set-Girls”
“Koo Koo or Actor Boy”
“Jaw Bone, or House John Canoe”
“Milkwoman”
“Creole Negroes”
“French Set-Girls”
“Lovey”
“Water-Jar Seller”
“Band of the Jaw-Bone John Canoe”