The Greek Slave Artist: Hiram Powers (American, 1805–1873)

1850, after an original of 1844

American Paintings and Sculpture

On view, 2nd floor, American Art before 1900

"There should be a moral in every work of art," proclaimed the expatriate sculptor Hiram Powers from his studio in Florence, Italy. Taking as his subject the atrocities committed during the Greek War of Independence, Powers portrays a young Greek woman for sale by her Turkish captors. The sculpture, whose pose was based in part on the Florentine Venus de’ Medici, immediately made the artist one of the most acclaimed sculptors of his day. Powers defended the figure’s nudity, a controversial topic at the time in puritanical America, by "clothing" her in the garb of moral and religious strength. "It is not her person but her spirit that stands exposed," he wrote. The Greek Slave became a symbol for abolitionists and the most celebrated sculpture in nineteenth-century America, inspiring an outpouring of prose and poetry.

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

65 1/4 × 21 × 18 1/4 in. (165.7 × 53.3 × 46.4 cm)

Credit Line

Olive Louise Dann Fund

Accession Number

1962.43

Geography
Culture
Period

19th century

Classification
Disclaimer

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.

Provenance

Provenance

Prince Paul Demidoff (1839–1885), Villa San Donato, Florence, 1850–1870; Mr. Phillips, 1870. Edward M. Scott, London, by May 1870. Claude de Bernales (1876–1963), Alton Lodge, Roehampton. Knoedler’s, New York, by 1962; sold to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1962
Bibliography
  • American Art: Selections from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2023), 130–31, no. 56, ill
  • Martina Droth, Michael Hatt, and Jason Edwards, Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Center for British Art, 2014),
  • Daniel Walker Howe, What Had God Wrought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), ill
  • Angela Miller et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008), 175, fig. 6.4
  • Powers’ Statue of the Greek Slave (Boston: Eastburn’s Press, 1848),
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

allegories, figures (representations), histories (visual works), human figures (visual works), nudes (representations)

Signed

Signed lower proper right rear edge: "HIRAM POWERS. / Sculp."

Technical metadata and APIs

IIIF

Open in Mirador

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