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Colonial Images of African Americans

Art historians frequently study depictions of race and/or ethnicity in art in order to better understand common attitudes and prejudices the dominant (white) American public believed about people of color in Colonial America. Artists of color, on the other hand, such as Scipio Moorehead, may have chosen to show another person of color in ways that defy these prejudices. In the text there is a discussion of Scipio Moorhead’s portrait of Phillis Wheatley. Compare this portrait to the painting Portrait of Charles Calvert, 1761, by John Hesselius, a white artist.

1. How has Scipio Moorhead chosen to depict Phillis Wheatley? Write a paragraph explaining what you notice about the picture.

2. How are the two children shown in Portrait of Charles Calvert? What choices has the artist made (color, light, composition, etc.)?

3. Compare and contrast the two pictures. How do they differ in the representation of African Americans?

****Please try to answer the questions by looking and describing what you see rather than by adding additional research. If you choose to read additional sources for help, please cite them.


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