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Bust of "The Greek Slave"

On view

Bust of "The Greek Slave"

Artist: Hiram Powers (American, 1805 - 1873)

Date: c. 1843
Medium: Marble
Overall: 25 x 20 x 11in. (63.5 x 50.8 x 27.9cm)
Signed: Back of base: 'H. POWERS. Sculp.'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 60.62
Label Text
In 1841 Hiram Powers created a life-sized nude marble statue entitled The Greek Slave. The artist drew his subject from Greece's struggle for independence from the Turks in the 1830s, and his artistic influences came from ancient Greek and Roman sculpture.

Early nineteenth-century American artists, like Powers, who wanted to emulate classical marble statuary probably felt compelled to justify nudity with such an heroic, sympathetic, and Christian subject. About this sculpture Powers wrote:

"Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed . . . she stands exposed to the people she abhors, and waits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. . . ."

While Powers does not make a parallel to slavery in the United States at the time, it is interesting to reflect retrospectively about his choice of subject matter in the era preceding the Civil War.

The Greek Slave was very popular and Powers carved four full-sized copies as well as many busts, including this one.


This bust and its nearby pendant, the Proserpine, is one of only six documented sets of these two sculptures that were commissioned or purchased directly from Powers' studio. Both works represent women who were subjected to cruel fate.

This bust was derived from Power' 1843 life-sized marble sculpture of a full-length female nude (Raby Castle, Durham, England). The sculpture depicts a young Greek Christian girl offered for sale in a Middle Eastern slave market. Although Greece's struggle for independence from the Turks in the 1830s and, somewhat more indirectly, the American slavery question, inspired the sculpture's subject, Powers' naturalistic rendering of a shackled female nude made the work one of the most popular statues in mid-nineteenth century America. Thousands of people paid to see the nude statue when it toured throughout the United States for more than two years. Powers capitalized on its popularity by making more affordable bust versions in at least three different sizes. His studio carved more than one hundred copies of the life-size bust.


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