If you’re not a very arty person you may not have heard of a marble statue by the name of The Greek Slave. In fact, it is one of the most important sculptures of the nineteenth century – it being especially highly rated in the USA, as it is the work of their very own Hiram Powers. And I am pleased to report that it sits here in the North-East, amidst the artistic treasures of Raby Castle.
It was created by Mr Powers in 1844, was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London and then bought by the 2nd Duke of Cleveland of Raby Castle in 1859 for £1,800. At nearly 40 stone in weight, it can’t have been an easy delivery to make, via train and truck from the capital to its new home in Co.Durham.
In case you’re wondering, the statue represents a life-size Greek Slave girl standing, chained and fully naked, at a Turkish slave market. During Victorian times, as you can imagine, it was a very controversial piece – so much so, in fact, that at many exhibitions men and women were obliged to view it separately. The young lady’s innocence is illustrated by the presence of a small Christian cross hanging near her right hand.
That at Raby Castle is one of six marble copies that were created – with ours being the first (primary) copy, created from first a clay, then a plaster, ‘original’. Powers worked out of Florence, and the primary marble copy was purchased by an Englishman in 1845. It appeared in several exhibitions – including the famous Great Exhibition – before its move north.
In Power’s own words:
The Slave has been taken from one of the Greek Islands by the Turks, in the time of the Greek revolution, the history of which is familiar to all. Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed by her foes, and she alone preserved as a treasure too valuable to be thrown away. She is now among barbarian strangers, under the pressure of a full recollection of the calamitous events which have brought her to her present state; and she stands exposed to the gaze of the people she abhors, and awaits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. Gather all these afflictions together, and add to them the fortitude and resignation of a Christian, and no room will be left for shame.
All the other full-size versions are to be found in the USA, though a smaller-scale affair is held by the V&A, London.