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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 was first exhibited in London in 1827 and constituted a timely abolitionist appeal in the years immediately preceding the British Emancipation Act of 1833. Simpson positioned his subject with his head and eyes raised toward the heavens in an echo of the conventional poses for Christian saints and martyrs. The artist thus used familiar iconography to appeal to the sentimentality and supposedly benevolent 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 model for the figure, now identified as Ira Aldridge, a free-born American who was the first well-known Shakespearian actor of African descent on the British stage. Famous for playing the title role in Othello, Aldridge had also performed in Thomas Morton’s musical drama The Slave, which may have provided the immediate inspiration for Simpson’s painting. Aldridge was also renowned for his persuasive speeches for the abolitionist cause.

An engraving of this work, published by Edward Finden in 1827, is also in the Art Institute’s collection.

Status

On loan to Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Houston 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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