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The Color of Stone

The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America

Charmaine A. Nelson
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Color of Stone
    Book Description:

    In The Color of Stone, Charmaine A. Nelson brilliantly analyzes a key, but often neglected, aspect of neoclassical sculpture—color. By establishing the centrality of race within the discussion of neoclassical sculpture, Nelson provides a model for a black feminist art history that at once questions and destabilizes canonical texts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5414-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a Black Feminist Art History
    (pp. xi-xxxvi)

    What do Africa, Cleopatra, and a slave have in common? While this may seem like the first line to a bad joke, it attempts to demonstrate what are at first glance the not so obvious links between the recurring subjects of the chapters that follow. Perhaps, more directly, I should ask, what is the connection between those subjects named above and the narratives that helped to construct the black female subject within nineteenthcentury western visual art traditions? If your guess is that the subjects in question were all black, it is indeed too obvious to be fully correct. The faultlies...


    • 1. Dismembering the Flock: Difference and the “Lady-Artists”
      (pp. 3-44)

      By the mid-nineteenth century, the Roman colony of which William Wetmore Story, Mary Edmonia Lewis, and many other talented sculptors were to become a part was dominantly Anglo-American and attracted throngs of cultural practitioners and cultural tourists. For the neoclassicists, Rome provided a concentrated access to the examples of Greek and Roman antiques from which their own sculptural forms were inspired, as well as revered collections of art from various historical periods and national origins. For sculptors and painters alike, the accepted process of artistic education entailed the common practice of honing one’s skills by copying these revered original works....

    • 2. “Taste” and the Practices of Cultural Tourism: Vision, Proximity, and Commemoration
      (pp. 45-56)

      Nineteenth-century neoclassical sculpture, its production, and the practices of viewing it were widely documented within guidebooks, tourist literature, travel diaries, novels, personal letters, and articles in popular journals. Many of these sources regularly emphasized the critical importance of Europe, Italy, and Rome within the western bourgeois rituals of cultural tourism.¹ Cultural tourism is a significant site of scholarly inquiry into the often exclusive identifications of tourists (those who travel in upper-class privilege) and travelers (those who travel purposefully or of necessity, often in discomfort), since, as a literary genre, it united the privileged practices of travel and authorship. Both nonfiction...

    • 3. “So Pure and Celestial a Light”: Sculpture, Marble, and Whiteness as a Privileged Racial Signifier
      (pp. 57-72)

      As expatriate artists, both William Wetmore Story and Edmonia Lewis created theirCleopatrasin Rome (see part III), the center of nineteenth-century western sculptural activity since the shift from Florence at midcentury. As Mary Hamer has described:

      Contemporary sculptors were drawn to Rome by the collections of antique sculpture for which the city was famous; since the beginning of the sixteenth century these statues had been the most prestigious objects in western art. Touchstones of “beauty” and “taste,” the cultural capital of the west was most densely concentrated in these stone bodies and body fragments, most of them white.¹



    • 4. White Slaves and Black Masters: Appropriation and Disavowal in Hiram Powers’s Greek Slave
      (pp. 75-112)

      As I have argued above, the deployment of white marble within nineteenth-century neoclassical sculptural practice actively disavowed racial difference, specifically blackness, through proscriptions at the level of media and material practice that successfully obstructed the possibility of racing the body in the dimension of skin color/complexion. What I detailed in the previous chapter was a material and aesthetic displacement. However, the black female body was also displaced at the level of theme or subject through a further disavowal of the immediacy of the contemporary sociopolitical contexts of colonialism and slavery. In other words, nineteenth-century artists often refused to create contemporaneous...

    • 5. The Color of Slavery: Degrees of Blackness and the Bodies of Female Slaves
      (pp. 113-140)

      The Introduction presented Cleopatra as one of several important guises through which black female subjects assumed a heightened visibility within nineteenth-century neoclassical sculpture. However, the American and European fascination with Cleopatra (and the attendant fascination with ancient Egyptian culture) must be placed within the broader context of the prolific and persistent interest in the social, cultural, and scientific limits of black female bodies generally, an interest that often rose to the level of negrophilia.¹ While Cleopatra has repeatedly been appropriated by generations of white western artists as a sexually, morally, and racially ambivalent site of power, desire, deceit, and conflict,...


    • 6. Racing the Body: Reading Blackness in William Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra
      (pp. 143-158)

      My exploration of the possibilities and aesthetic limitations of black female subjects within nineteenth-century neoclassicism has led me, full circle, back to theCleopatrasof William Wetmore Story and Mary Edmonia Lewis. Although the sculptors became established in Rome by the latter part of the nineteenth century, both Story and Lewis also maintained strong connections with Boston. William Story first traveled to Rome and Europe in October 1847 at the age of twenty-eight in the wake of a public commission for a sculpture to commemorate his father’s life. Prior to this date Story had spent most of his life in...

    • 7. The Black Queen in the White Body: Edmonia Lewis and the Dead Queen
      (pp. 159-178)

      By the time Edmonia Lewis began work on her sculptureDeath of Cleopatra(1875 ) (Figure 38 )¹ an indelible shift in the possibility of the queen’s racial identification had already taken place. Cleopatra was, by the late nineteenth century, readily identifiable as a black female subject. As I have argued throughout, her blackness had been represented, evoked, and implied within both literature and the visual arts and supported by human science classifications of ancient Egyptians as a racially hybrid category with varying degrees of Negroid ancestry as well as supported by the abolitionist desire to deploy antislavery symbols within...

  8. Conclusion: Neoclassicism and the Politics of Race
    (pp. 179-184)

    In 2001, just after completing my Ph.D. dissertation, I left Manchester, England, on a plane bound for Italy. My destination was Rome, and my mission would take me to some of the most beautiful and historic cemeteries in the city. I was looking for Edmonia Lewis, or rather her resting place. In reading all of the primary and secondary sources, letters, journals, and newspaper articles I could uncover during the three years that I had worked on my dissertation, I had found that none of the documents had anything definitive to say about where or when she died. Undeterred I...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 185-186)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-226)
  11. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)