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The Greek Slave

The Greek Slave, 1844, Marble
Hiram Powers (American, 1805 – 1873)
Created during the height of the Victorian era, Hiram Powers’ The Greek Slave is the first American sculpture of a nude to achieve wild popularity and acceptance in the mid-19th-century. In a bold move, the young sculptor chose to tour The Greek Slave—a sensational subject of a woman on sale as a sexual object—in 1847-8 around the United States. Modeled heavily on the classical Venus De Medici (which the artist regularly observed while living in Florence) The Greek Slave is an interesting combination of a 5th-century idealized form tempered by prevailing 19t--century Victorian aesthetics. Indeed, the chained Greek beauty demurely averts her gaze, while awaiting her fate of being auctioned into Turkish slavery. While the American public in 1847 was ambivalent about the moral ramifications of viewing an explicitly nude female, Reverend Orville Dewey, a New York pastor, publically extolled the virtues of the ‘simplicity and chasteness’ of Powers’ sculpture and encouraged Americans to view The Greek Slave without guilt. It was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and while on national tour over 100,000 people viewed The Greek Slave. Wildly popular, many American collectors commissioned busts or small-scale reproductions from Powers. As such The Greek Slave is a landmark example of evolving American taste and a growing art market. In 1867 Dr. Thomas Evans commissioned this bust of The Greek Slave for a fee of 105 pounds (today the equivalent of $16,000 US dollars).