Woman of African Descent
This sculpture reverses the power dynamic between sitter and artist that underlies commissioned portraits. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux created a faithful yet sexualized likeness from a living model, represented as an enslaved woman bound with ropes. The bust was based on a figure representing Africa—one of four female nudes that would personify the continents in a Paris fountain (see illustration). Although Carpeaux completed the bust twenty years after France freed the enslaved African people across its empire, he acknowledged the lingering role of slavery in the inscription, which translates "Why born a slave?"
Plaster with patina; red stone base
a: 13 3/4 x 9 1/4 x 7 in. (34.9 x 23.5 x 17.8 cm)
b: 9 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (22.9 x 31.8 x 31.8 cm) (show scale)
Incised back of plaster base: "J-B Carpeaux 1868"
Incised on front of base: "Pourquoi nâitre esclave"
This item is not on view
Gift of Benno Bordiga, by exchange and Mary Smith Dorward Fund
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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827-1875). Woman of African Descent, 1868. Plaster with patina; red stone base, a: 13 3/4 x 9 1/4 x 7 in. (34.9 x 23.5 x 17.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Benno Bordiga, by exchange and Mary Smith Dorward Fund, 1993.83a-b. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1993.83a-b_SL3.jpg)
overall, 1993.83a-b_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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