Sketch of an Allegory of the Abolition of Slavery

Anonymous, French School, 19th Century French

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A semi-naked and emaciated Black man casts an imploring gaze upward at a triumphally posed female figure who has broken the chains of bondage beneath her foot. Flowing drapery and a Phrygian cap, representing liberty, identify her as an allegory of the French Republic. This unsigned terracotta sketch may have been an anonymous submission to an open contest that called for symbolic representations of the newly formed Second Republic, a short-lived democratic regime that abolished slavery in 1848. Its emphasis on the female figure’s role as liberator reflected French patriotic sentiment, while the representation of the Black figure as helpless and in need of sanctuary advanced imperialist notions of racial difference.

Sketch of an Allegory of the Abolition of Slavery, Anonymous, French School, 19th Century (French, 1800–1899), Terracotta, French

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