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The Captive Slave (Ira Aldridge)

Painting of a dark-skinned man seated and wearing a red open-necked tunic. He looks up to the right. His wrists are shackled and a large chain rests at his right, running down the bench he sits upon.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Painting of a dark-skinned man seated and wearing a red open-necked tunic. He looks up to the right. His wrists are shackled and a large chain rests at his right, running down the bench he sits upon.

Date:

1827

Artist:

John Philip Simpson
English, 1782–1847

About this artwork

This arresting depiction of an enslaved man constituted a timely abolitionist appeal in the years leading up to the British Emancipation Act of 1833. The subject raises his head and eyes toward the heavens in an echo of the conventional poses for Christian saints and martyrs. John Philip Simpson thus used familiar iconography to appeal to the sentimentality and supposed moral superiority of wealthy white viewers with the requisite power to sway public policy. But the deeply moving pose also reflects the artistic contribution of the man who modeled for the figure, now identified as Ira Aldridge, a free-born American actor famous for playing the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello. His performance in Thomas Morton’s musical drama The Slave may have been the immediate inspiration for Simpson’s painting. Aldridge was also renowned for his persuasive speeches for the abolitionist cause.

Status

On loan to National Gallery of Art in Washington for Afro-Atlantic Histories

Department

Painting and Sculpture of Europe

Artist

John Philip Simpson

Title

The Captive Slave (Ira Aldridge)

Date

1827

Medium

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

127 × 101.5 cm (50 × 40 in.)

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Mary Winton Green, Dan and Sara Green Cohan, Howard and Lisa Green and Jonathan and Brenda Green, in memory of David Green

Reference Number

2008.188

IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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https://api.artic.edu/api/v1/artworks/193664/manifest.json

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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