Hiram Powers' Greek Slave
August 17, 2011 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Although the sculptor Hiram Powers (1805-73) enjoyed considerable success with his portraits and more allegorical works, he is now almost entirely remembered for one of nineteenth-century America's most hotly-debated sculptures: The Greek Slave. Powers was a little vague about the inspiration for the statue--longstanding dream, or response to the Greek War of Independence (see previously)? Understood at the time as a major leap forward in establishing America as a serious force in the art world, the statue was an international hit (appearing at the Great Exhibition of 1851), and was endlessly copied and daguerrotyped. (Some of the copies turn the statue into a much more ambiguous bust, or hark back to one of its major influences, the Venus de Milo.) However, some observers, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning and, much more pointedly, the illustrator and caricaturist John Tenniel, suggested that an American sculptor might wish to think about other slaves.
posted by thomas j wise (9 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
What a rich, interesting post, thanks. Tenniel's "The Virginian Slave" in that last link is great, a fascinating look at a previous century's pop culture.
posted by mediareport at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2011

2nd to last link
posted by mediareport at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2011

"It's complicated?"
posted by R. Mutt at 7:44 PM on August 17, 2011

Is this one of those Victorian sex things that required a thin veneer of lofty philosophy?

"Ah, yes, this work is exciting to the...imagination. Provoking...discourse."
posted by Nixy at 9:35 PM on August 17, 2011

Here's a link to a TED style talk one of my professors did recently where he touches on Greek Slave (at 10:09) in a lecture about American art.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 9:58 PM on August 17, 2011

This is a wonderful FPP. I learned an enormous amount! Thanks so much, thomas j wise, for bringing it to our attention.
posted by barnacles at 12:21 AM on August 18, 2011

Delta, that was really interesting, thanks!
posted by flaterik at 12:30 AM on August 18, 2011

Nice post. I live in Richmond, VA, where the state art museum has two Powers sculptures regularly on view. One is a life-size Cleopatra, the other a Fisher Boy. I was there a couple weeks back, sketching the latter, and it was an absolute delight to have an excuse to sit and gaze at the sculpture for an extended period. I haven't tried sketching Cleo yet because, well, I love it, and I don't think I'm quite skilled enough yet.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:04 PM on August 18, 2011

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