Published July 2012:The Slave in European Art. From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem

The Slave in European Art cover
Book Cover of The Slave in European Art

The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem

Edited by prof. Elizabeth McGrath (Warburg Institute) and prof. Jean Michel Massing (University of Cambridge)

Warburg Institute Colloquia, 20

(Editors: Jill Kraye and Charles Burnett)

The Warburg Institute – Nino Aragno Editore (London and Turin, 2012)

This volume explores the imagery of slaves and enslavement – white as well as black – in early modern Europe.

Long before the abolitionist movement took up the theme, European art abounded in images of slaves – chained, subjected, subdued figures. Often these enslaved figures were meant to be symbolic, for slavery was widely invoked as a metaphor in both religious and secular contexts. The ancient Roman iconography of triumphalism, with its trophies and caryatids, provided a crucial impetus to this imagery, particularly for Renaissance artists who developed their own variations. Here the use of classical models had a peculiar force, since nudity, the attribute of antique heroes and idealized abstractions, was the mark of the Mediterranean galley slave. It was also to become the condition of the enslaved and transported African.

The poignant sculptures of naked black Africans on Italian monuments of the seventeenth century are Ottoman galley slaves, representatives of the Islamic enemy along with their Turkish companions. But with the expansion and extension of the trade in enslaved Africans among the nations of Europe, African blackness became in itself a sign of slavery in European art. Fashionable portraits increasingly showed young and servile blacks, sometimes wearing silver slave collars, paying tribute to the status or supposed beauty of their masters and mistresses. This imagery often presents itself as playfully metaphorical, even though the slavery of Africans so portrayed could be literal enough. Unsurprisingly, there was little demand for representations of the slave trade. In the few cases in which African slaves in colonial situations became the subject-matter of paintings, they were generally depicted as part of an imperialist and ‘civilizing’ mission, or accommodated to picturesque formulae, distant from the uncomfortable realities of life on the plantation. Indeed – as the case of Spain especially demonstrates – the representation of slaves in art is never proportionate to their numerical presence in slave-owning societies. It is only with abolitionism that the slave trade and its injustices becomes an artistic theme, provoking the visual counter-propaganda that is charted in the coda to this collection.



Introduction: Reality and Metaphor

Elizabeth McGrath, Caryatids, Page Boys, and African Fetters: Themes of Slavery in European art

Charles Robertson, Allegory and Ambiguity in Michelangelo’s ‘Slaves’

Jean-Luc Liez, L’esclavage comme métaphore religieuse dans l’iconographie de l’ordre des Trinitaires

Galley Slaves and Moorish Captives

Jean Michel Massing, The Iconography of Mediterranean Slavery in the Seventeenth Century

Rick Scorza, Messina 1535 to Lepanto 1571. Vasari, Borghini and the Imagery of Moors, Barbarians and Turks

Anthea Brook, From Borgo Pinti to Doccia: The Afterlife of Pietro Tacca’s Moors for Livorno

Europe, the Americas and the Slave Trade

Carmen Fracchia, The Urban Slave in Spain and New Spain

Ernst van den Boogaart, Black Slavery and the ‘Mulatto Escape Hatch’ in the Brazilian Ensembles of Frans Post and Albert Eckhout

Elmer Kolfin, Becoming Human. The Iconography of Black Slavery in French, British and Dutch Book Illustrations c. 1600-c. 1800

Abolitionism and its Critics

Meredith Gamer, George Morland’s ‘Slave Trade’ and ‘African Hospitality’: Slavery, Sentiment and the Limits of the Abolitionist Image’

David Bindman, ‘They are a Happy People’: Some Newly Identified Pro-slavery Caricatures from the Age of Abolition

Temi Odumosu, Abolitionists, African Diplomats and ‘the Black Joke’ in George Cruikshank’s ‘New Union Club’

396pp. [i-x + 386pp.], 161 b/w illustrations and 15 plates, 13 in colour.

Price: £55

ISBN 978-1-908590-43-5

ISSN 1352-9986

The Warburg Institute, London – Nino Aragno Editore, Turin

Telephone: (0)20 7862-8949 Fax: (0)20 7862-8955 e-mail:

Work discussed in the book:

Portrait of Hortense Mancini Duchess of Mazarin