The Greek Slave  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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The Greek Slave is a marble statue in Raby Castle, carved in Florence by American sculptor Hiram Powers in 1844. Copies of the statue were displayed in a number of venues around Great Britain and the United States, and it quickly became one of Powers' most famous and most popular works. The design of the statue was based upon the Venus de' Medici in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Subject

The statue depicts a young woman, nude, bound in chains; in one hand she holds a small cross on a chain. The title suggests that she is some sort of captive, and is on display for sale as a sexual object in an unknown slave market. Powers himself described the subject of the work thus:

The Slave has been taken from one of the Greek Islands by the Turks, in the time of the Greek Revolution; the history of which is familiar to all. Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed by her foes, and she alone preserved as a treasure too valuable to be thrown away. She is now among barbarian strangers, under the pressure of a full recollection of the calamitous events which have brought her to her present state; and she stands exposed to the gaze of the people she abhors, and awaits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. Gather all these afflictions together, and add to them the fortitude and resignation of a Christian, and no room will be left for shame.

When the statue was taken on tour in 1848, Miner Kellogg, a friend of the artist and manager of the tour put together a pamphlet to hand out to exhibition visitors. He provided his own description of the piece:

The ostensible subject is merely a Grecian maiden, made captive by the Turks and exposed at Constantinople, for sale. The cross and locket, visible amid the drapery, indicate that she is a Christian, and beloved. But this simple phase by no means completes the meaning of the statue. It represents a being superior to suffering, and raised above degradation, by inward purity and force of character. Thus the Greek Slave is an emblem of the trial to which all humanity is subject, and may be regarded as a type of resignation, uncompromising virtue, or sublime patience.

Reaction

Public reaction to the statue was mixed. When the work was first exhibited, many people were scandalized by the figure's nudity; Powers countered much of this criticism by suggesting that the young woman was a perfect example of Christian purity and chastity, because even in her unclothed state she was attempting to shield herself from the gaze of onlookers. Furthermore, he said, her nudity was no fault of her own, but rather was caused by her Turkish captors, who stripped her to display her for sale. So well did this reasoning work that many Christian pastors would exhort their congregations to go and see the statue when it was displayed.

Some viewers also drew parallels between The Greek Slave and the slaves who were concurrently working on the plantations of the American South. Such parallels were initially lost upon much of the statue's American audience, but as the American Civil War neared, abolitionists began to take the piece as a symbol, and to compare it with "the Virginian Slave". The comparison was the subject of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. The statue also inspired a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Powers made six replicas of the Raby Castle Greek Slave for sale to various collectors. One such variant is currently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum; another is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

See also

Pretexts for nudity in art



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Greek Slave" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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