New Book | Portraits of Resistance

Posted in books by Editor on January 16, 2023

From Yale UP:

Jennifer Van Horn, Portraits of Resistance: Activating Art during Slavery (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022), 344 pages, ISBN: 978-0300257632, $60.

Book coverA highly original history of American portraiture that places the experiences of enslaved people at its center

This timely and eloquent book tells a new history of American art: how enslaved people mobilized portraiture for acts of defiance. Revisiting the origins of portrait painting in the United States, Jennifer Van Horn reveals how mythologies of whiteness and of nation building erased the aesthetic production of enslaved Americans of African descent and obscured the portrait’s importance as a site of resistance. Moving from the wharves of colonial Rhode Island to antebellum Louisiana plantations to South Carolina townhouses during the Civil War, the book illuminates how enslaved people’s relationships with portraits also shaped the trajectory of African American art post-emancipation. Van Horn asserts that Black creativity, subjecthood, viewership, and iconoclasm constituted instances of everyday rebellion against systemic oppression. Portraits of Resistance is not only a significant intervention in the fields of American art and history but also an important contribution to the reexamination of racial constructs on which American culture was built.

Jennifer Van Horn is associate professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware.



Introduction: Neptune Thurston’s Portraits
1  Making Portraits
2  Fleeting Portraits
3  Haunted Portraits
4  Viewing Portraits
5  Destroying Portraits
Epilogue: Archibald Motley’s Portraits

Illustration Credit

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