Posted: 02 Mar 2018 08:07 PM PST
You’d think paintings of an enchained slave asking “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” would be plentiful. The image of a kneeling enslaved African appealing to our shared humanity appeared on everything from jewelry to snuff boxes to broadsides since its inception as the seal of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in England in 1787. Potter and member Josiah Wedgwood had the idea of making jasperware cameos of that image and slogan as medallions to promote the Society’s goal of abolishing the slave the trade. He manufactured hundreds of them and gave them to his fellow members to distribute. They had an immediate impact, creating one of the first wildly successful political logos and slogans with worldwide reach.
Society co-founder Thomas Clarkson wrote in the second volume of his History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (published in 1807):
Even after the trade and slavery itself were abolished in Britain, the abolitionist icon continued to thrive in countries like the US where ending slavery was still a distant prospect. And yet, the symbol was converted into an actual painted subject surprisingly seldom. In the UK, there are only two known. One is in the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull. The other was in a private collection but has now been acquired by the National Museums Liverpool for the International Slavery Museum.
Am Not I A Man and A Brother was painted around 1800 and depicts the enslaved man kneeling against a background of a Caribbean sugar plantation. It was purchased for £50,000 funded by grants from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures program.
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