SPECTACULARLY CHARGED AMBROTYPE OF A BLACK NURSE AND WHITE CHILD

$950.00 SOLD

Quantity Available: None

Item Code: 1138-2036

This sixth-plate ruby ambrotype has some spotting to the surface of the plate, but such strong clarity and subject matter it hardly matters. Housed in a good leatherette case embossed on both sides with a scene of a long-necked bird drinking from a long-necked urn, the image is matted, glassed and framed. The background is plain, throwing the sitters in high relief. At left a somewhat plump young white girl is seated in a high chair, her hands holding the arm rests and her feet dangling below the chair seat. On the right a mature black woman is seated next to her and leans toward the child slightly, extending an arm around the back of the high chair to steady it, and perhaps reassure the girl, who looks somewhat terrified by the whole proceeding despite her lightly tinted red cheeks.

The woman is well dressed, with her hair pulled back somewhat, wearing earrings and a short white collar over the top of her dark dress. The image dates about 1850-60 and it is no stretch of the imagination to think she is enslaved, with the quality of her dress meant to indicate the social status of her owners as well as her assigned position in the household. This image can really stop a viewer, touching as it does all sorts of issues of race and history, racial relations and their portrayal, and our continuing debates and struggles to understand our past. It is an image that opens discussion and no description of its content can summarize it.

We would only note two additional details. One is that the woman holds a photographic case in her lap. We don’t assign any particular meaning to this other than that the photographer may have thought something was missing from the composition and used a fairly standard prop that is remarkable only for how little it has to do with the image. The second is that while the child stares at the camera, the woman seems to look slightly down and to the viewer’s right, perhaps in deference, but perhaps refusing to be fully engaged in a process in which she herself is used as something of a prop.

This is a top-level image- there is no getting around the subject matter, nor should we- and it deserves a place in a sophisticated collection.  [sr] [ph:m]

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