DescriptionIn the portrait titled Mr. Shaw’s Blackman the sitter is unnamed. He is identified only in relation to his master, gender, and race. His costume implies he was a servant and not a laborer. Unlike the profile’s author, Moses Williams, a freedman who had chosen his own name, the identity of this man remained bound to the institution of slavery. The anonymity of the portrait translates the subject into a legible physiognomic cypher. Finely executed silhouettes were viewed as reliable imprints of nature, and therefore were used as pieces of identification for slaves and periodically included in slave sales.
Researcher: Jennifer Donnelly