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Woman of African Descent

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

European Art

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?"
MEDIUM Plaster with patina; red stone base
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1868
    DIMENSIONS sculpture: 13 3/4 × 9 1/4 × 7 in. (34.9 × 23.5 × 17.8 cm) base: 9 × 12 1/2 × 12 1/2 in. (22.9 × 31.8 × 31.8 cm) weight with base: 43.5 lb. (19.73kg)  (show scale)
    INSCRIPTIONS Incised back of plaster base: "J-B Carpeaux 1868" Incised on front of base: "Pourquoi nâitre esclave"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1993.83a-b
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Benno Bordiga, by exchange and Mary Smith Dorward Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827-1875). Woman of African Descent, 1868. Plaster with patina; red stone base, sculpture: 13 3/4 × 9 1/4 × 7 in. (34.9 × 23.5 × 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)
    IMAGE overall, 1993.83a-b_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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