(The Root) — This image is part of a weekly series that The Rootis presenting in conjunction with the Image of the Black in Western Art Archive at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The urge to memorialize great moments in history is one of the defining aspects of 19th-century art. In the case of the work seen here, the artist was presented with the especially intriguing challenge of commemorating the liberation of an entire people from bondage. The solution may seem clichéd and patronizing by today’s standards, but it lies solidly within the prevailing expressive language of its time. The essence of a culminating historical event is distilled in terms lying between allegory and the more concrete lionization of the individual. The revolution of 1848 ushered in an agenda of progressive reform, and the ardent campaigner, long active in the world of letters, was suddenly thrust into a position of real political power. Named undersecretary of the navy and the colonies, he headed a commission charged with drafting a decree abolishing slavery. On April 27, 1848, nearly a quarter-million slaves in the West Indian colonies and North Africa became free. Schoelcher continued to… Read full this story
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