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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Artist: Hiram Powers, American, 1805–1873

The Greek Slave

1850, after an original of 1844

Marble

65 1/4 × 21 × 18 1/4 in. (165.7 × 53.3 × 46.4 cm)
Olive Louise Dann Fund
1962.43
“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.
Geography: 
Made in Italy
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Prince Paul Demidoff, Villa San Donato, Florence, 1850–1870; Mr. Phillips, 1870. Edward M. Scott, London, by May 1870. Claude de Bernales, Alton Lodge, Roehampton. Knoedler’s, New York, by 1962; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

Angela Miller et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008), 175, fig. 6.4.

Daniel Walker Howe, What Had God Wrought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), ill.

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 such records is ongoing.