Chapter 14: Blacks in White Marble: Interracial Female Subjects in Mid-Nineteenth- Century Neoclassicism

Black subjects, especially slaves or free (wo)men, were a staple presence of much 19th-century American cultural production, in which themes such as Trans-Atlantic Slavery, Abolitionism, the Civil War and Emancipation were exploited (Fryd, 1992; Murray, 1916). However, black female subjects reveal a racial ambivalence that will be explored as a matter of their gender/sex difference. Highly visible in art, black female subjects were simultaneously subject to a racial regulation, resulting in the dominance of an interracial (white-Negro) type that was not imposed upon black male subjects to the same extent. The hybridity of this in-between racial body allowed artists to exploit the assumed Beauty of the (almost) white body and the sexuality of the black. This phenomenon raises questions about preferable types and degrees of blackness and their gendered possibilities. Although within paintings of the same period, interracial bodies were dominantly represented by manipulating skin color/complexion, Neoclassicism’s specific and limited material and aesthetic practices (white marble) effectively effaced the dominance of color as the primary signifier of race.