Aug 3, 2017

19th Century Slave Paintings

This is one of the most famous paintings of the 19th century, Le supplice de fouet (Flogging), Whipping of a Fugitive Slave" by Marcel Verdier (1817-1856).

It depicts a naked slave, tied spreadeagle on his stomach, his butt in the air, being whipped by a black overseer while the master, his family, and other slaves watch.

The erotic energy and power usually associated with male nudity has dissipated, leaving only abjection and despair.

Pictures of slaves being punished were not uncommon during the period. They allowed the artist to make a statement about the brutality of the "peculiar institution" while still drawing out the beauty of the nude male form.

 In Augustus Earle's Punishing Negroes at Cathabouco, Rio de Janeiro, the slave being whipped stands upright, displaying a muscular back and buttocks in defiance of the whip.

In an 1834 illustration of a slave being punished in Brazil, the man is forced into the fetal position to take the switch, yet his muscular physique is anything but infantile.  He seems ready to break his bonds and burst into freedom.

This illustration from The Story of My Life, by Mary Livermore (1899), shows a very muscular slave with a massive chest, his arms lifted to heaven.

An illustration of a slave being punished by hanging, by Offert Dapper, emphasizes the muscularity of his arms and legs.

A slave market, from Bickwell's History of the West Indies as They Are (1835), contrasts the classical physique of the man being sold with the effete dandies examining him.

See also: Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Slave as an Object of Desire

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