Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hiram Powers, "The Greek Slave"

In 1844, American sculptor Hiram Powers completed a sculpture he called, “The Greek Slave”, which was to become one of the most popular art works of the 19th century.  The statue is of a naked young woman, bound in chains.  In one hand she holds a small cross.

Powers described the work:

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.”

The statue became a rallying symbol for a number a groups.  In 1848, Lucy Stone saw the statue and broke into tears, seeing the statue as the symbol of man’s oppression of the female sex.  Stone took up the cause of women’s rights.  Abolitionists drew parallels between the plight of The Greek Slave and the plight of slaves in the American South.

Hiram Powers' studio produced six full-scale marble versions of The Greek Slave for private collectors.  The statue is now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among other places.

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