Gender, Sex, and Power: Images of Enslaved Women’s Bodies

by Ana Lucia Araújo


This chapter focuses on how wood engravings and lithographs published in the travel accounts of Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768–1848), Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802–1858), and François-Auguste Biard (1799–1882) reveal the vision that male European artists had of black and mulatto women. Araújo seeks to understand how their representations of black women’s bodies express both gender relations and the sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit power relations between masters and female slaves. The first part of the chapter establishes a preliminary genealogy of these images, in which nudity clearly shown or subtly evoked reminds us of the ways in which European travelers have exhaustively represented Brazilian Indigenous women’s bodies since the sixteenth century. The second part gives a brief overview of the biographies of Debret, Rugendas, and Biard in order to introduce the analysis of some lithographs and wood engravings published in the travel accounts and albums produced by the three artists. Araújo explains how their representations of the cordial relations between masters, slaves, and feitores (overseers) helped to nourish the idea of Brazil as a country of racial harmony. Finally, the chapter demonstrates that these images are part of a larger trend visible in films and television series focusing on slavery in the Americas in general and Brazil in particular. Araújo argues that the contemporary images of Brazilian black and mulatto women have a close association with these early representations of enslaved African women.

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