Hercules Subdued: The Visual Rhetoric of the Kneeling Slave

Hamilton, Cynthia S. (2013) Hercules Subdued: The Visual Rhetoric of the Kneeling Slave. Slavery & Abolition, 34 (4). pp. 631-652. ISSN 0144-039X

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The image of the kneeling slave, designed for the seal of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, then widely distributed as a cameo manufactured and distributed by Josiah Wedgwood became a powerful abolitionist icon. The image has been seen as both one of victimization and one that acknowledges the agency of the slave. While the former interpretation is understandable given the re-configurations of the image within the polemics of the Abolitionist campaign of the nineteenth century, the original image needs to be examined within the context of its construction. For this, it is necessary to explore the classical nature of the figure, particularly the representations and mythic significance of Hercules. These associations are combined with references to supplication as depicted in earlier token books, religious iconography, contemporary treatises on acting, eighteenth century treatises on gesture and rhetoric, and eighteenth century treatises on phrenology, physiognomy and ethnology. It is the complexity derived from such blending that became simplified and limited in later re-presentations where the image is used in conjunction with sentimental appeals to the benevolence of the viewer. As the classical resonances gave way to sentimental imperatives, the changing array of discourses changed not only the context which gave the image meaning, but reshaped the very image of the kneeling slave in subtle, but significant ways. The result provides us with a complex study of the dynamics of visual rhetoric.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > English
Depositing User: Susan Murray
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2014 09:43
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2014 09:43
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/290

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