Plaster, original polychromed surface
67 cm (26 3/8 in.)
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 2022.2
Although officially abolished in France since 1848, slavery remained a hotly contested issue in Carpeaux’s time as it remained legal or tolerated in various countries around the world.
One of the most powerful expressions of abolitionist sentiment in the visual arts, Why Born Enslaved! depicts an African woman bound by ropes and looking defiantly upward. The ropes press painfully into her breasts; her torn blouse alludes to the violence responsible for her condition. The original, polychromed surface is covered with complex, nuanced hatchings and subtle modeling. Evidence indicates that this masterpiece of 19th-century French sculpture served as the master model for numerous casts in other museum collections.
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