Portrait of a Woman and an Enslaved Servant

Nicolas de Largillierre (or Largillière) French

Not on view

The notion that there were no slaves in France was readily extrapolated from the legal code promoted by the minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, whose portrait hangs in this gallery. But exceptions abounded, particularly for families with wealth derived from the slave trade between France and its colonies. This portrait is an explicit document of the reality of a societal structure based on theories of pseudoscientific racism formulated in government-sanctioned academies: a white woman clad in resplendent silk dominates, her scale and placement constructed to inspire reverential admiration, while a Black child wearing a hinged metal slave collar is positioned subserviently to her side. His pictorial equation with the dog, a symbol of fidelity, alludes to enslavers’ fantasy of a natural order of racialized hierarchy.

Portrait of a Woman and an Enslaved Servant, Nicolas de Largillierre (or Largillière) (French, Paris 1656–1746 Paris), Oil on canvas

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