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Study of a Woman Kneeling

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux French

Not on view

Carpeaux modeled this dynamic terracotta sketch after the unknown woman who posed for Why Born Enslaved! An early, full-length study relating to the bust, it already displays the figure’s hunched shoulders and anguished, upward gaze. The truncated arms give the figure a heightened sense of vulnerability. While this figure’s kneeling pose finds precedent in the classical motif of the crouching Venus surprised at her bath, it is also characteristic of depictions of Black figures in Western sculpture, who often appear vanquished, subordinated, or enslaved. Nineteenth-century audiences would have also recognized its direct relationship to the profusion of antislavery imagery derived from the kneeling and beseeching Black man in shackles on the 1787 Wedgwood antislavery medallion, a version of which is also included in the exhibition.

Study of a Woman Kneeling, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, Valenciennes 1827–1875 Courbevoie), Terracotta, French

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