The Slave Ship was initially shown in the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1840. Turner attached a verse-tag to the paintings entry on the exhibition catalogue which made relevance to the paintings relevance on the issues of slave trade and its abolition. The author does not concentrate hugely on questioning which sources are most relevant to the painting but rather how the concept of Turner on slavery and abolition and the historical changes that revolve around these concepts can be understood the more in relation to other artistic and literary representation.
The historical painting has been seen to represent a historical incident, an approach that has led to people viewing Turners vision of history as linear and progressive. However, the author has demonstrated how this painting depicts more than one point in historical time and how it was more complex on the concepts of slavery and abolition. On questioning the linear progression of time and civilization, the painting prompts reading that considers the interplay of past and present. There is every reason to suppose that the notorious incident of the slaver Zong from 1781 and the Royal Navys involvement in the late 1830s to be the sources of the painting. Turner refused to locate the involvement of British in slavery but instead showed how slavery persisted even when the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. Even with the abolition of slavery in Britain, Spain and Portugal were still involved in slavery even in 1840. The British warships patrolled the waters to prevent slavery. The pursuit by the Britons was known as the pursuit and jettison issue. It was widely reported in 1840. It is this year where Prince Albert opened the Anti-Slavery League Conference in Exeter Hall. In addition to this the model resists showing the optimistic vision of the future leading to the author referring to The Slave Ship as a dialectical history painting since its concept of historical change is based in the negotiation of the past and present. Turners image denies the linear progression from the earlier periods to the later ones, instead juxtaposing these periods. The contrast of the historical periods is seen in the distribution of information on the canvas. The use of the present tense in the title of the painting and verse-tag indicates that the action of throwing the slaves overboard is happening as people look at the painting. However, this sense is contradicted since the ship is far away from the drowning slaves. The view of The Slave Ship representing two historical periods is consistent with Turners general pictorial practice. The two historical references in the painting are left unresolved by its formal structure. Rather than depicting a linear progression, the painting moves back and forth between the two periods. The paintings statement in abolition is defined by the dialectical movement.
The author uses a variety of art-historical evidences including; direct observations of works of art, scientific data gathered about the materials and condition of a work of art, comparisons with related works of art, documentary sources that date from the period in question, literary works from the period in question, arguments made by other art historians or scholars in other fields and inferences based on experience or general knowledge of the period/type of art.
The author suggests that Zongs incidence is one of the references of the painting. This suggestion is backed up by arguments made by other scholars whereby they suggest that during the middle passage, Zongs captain facing a water shortage, ordered the slaves who were dying and the sick be thrown overboard for he knew he would collect insurance on slaves lost at sea which is depicted by the shackled hands, legs and chains of drowning slaves in the foreground of the painting (Clarkson) and is referred directly in a phrase on the verse-tag which goes as; The dead and the dying- Neer heed their chains. Boime does agree with the author that the painting is a depiction of the Zong. The imagery stages the struggles between the plantation system of slavery and the new forces of laissez-faire industrialization (Boime). The fiery sunset is a metaphor for the outmoded institution in the context of the new industrialized state (Boime). Britishs participation in slavery needs to be seen as purely historical for the interpretation of the metaphor to function. However the interpretation conflicts with the storm which represents the eclipse of slavery by the new capitalist forces. McCoubrey does assert that the scene depicts this issue however they The Slave Ship does not illustrate the Zong incident. The author suggests that McCoubrey seems misguided since he overlooked the reference of the the dead and dying in the title. Indeed if the ship had recently left the harbor, it would be much less likely to have a large number of sick and dying slaves. If Zong was an illustration of jettison, where is the pursuer? Since no ship appears on the canvas, the storm is seen to be the pursuer. However, the ship is headed for the storm not away from it (McCoubrey). McCoubrey interprets the painting as an allegory for hope of the future end of the slave trade and a period of peace, freedom and prosperity to follow. However the author suggests that the painting resists the optimistic allegory of McCoubrey. By using the condition of the painting, the author describes how the painting moves back and forth between the periods and not forward. Therefore, this backs up the argument made by the author that there is no linear progression in the painting. There is every reason to believe the painting referred to the incident of Zong and the Royal Navys involvement in jettison.
From inferences based on general knowledge of the period, the author makes a claim that some of the countries such as Spain and Portugal were still involved with slavery in the year of Turners painting, 1840 even with the British parliament passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. British warships patrolled the waters of West African Coasts to prevent this trade. With the captains being given prize money for the slaves captured in the seas, they used to let the ships leave the harbor then later pursued them. When the slavers realized this, they made the slaves lighten the ships so that they could outrun the patrols. Hence, this issue was termed as pursuit and jettison. The Slave Ship speaks historically of the Britishs involvement in slavery but the dual reference depicting to Zong and pursuit and jettison is integral to the formal structure of the painting and not a last moment addition (Marsh).
With the painting referring to the Zongs incident, The Slave Ship does point to the role of British in slavery whereas the reference of the painting to the navys role in pursuit and jettison is an indication of the persistence in the involvement in the wake of abolition. The juxtaposition depicted here is suggested in Clarksons book. Turners painting denies linear progression from the earlier periods to the later ones but instead juxtaposes them. The author uses the conditions of the work of art to explain how the contrast in the two historical periods is visible in the distribution of information on the painting. The sweeping seascape and the atmospheric forces are devoted to by a larger part of the painting with the specific details of slaves and sea creatures concentrated in the two areas of the foreground. The ship is at the left background of the canvas. These sites of information have been separated from one another by the dividing heaving seas and the trough created by the reflection of the sun. The use of the present tense in the title of the painting and verse-tag indicate that the action of throwing the slaves overboard is happening as people look at the painting. However, this sense is contradicted since the ship is far away from the drowning slaves. The two historical references are left unresolved by the paintings formal structure by the constant shifting back and forth between the two periods. Furthermore, the author compares the two paintings of Turner, The Slave Ship and Rome, from the Vatican of 1819 to bring out the multiple historical references to allow his images to speak to broader issues of human existence. The author uses literary works to back up his claims and suggestions. The author uses Thompsons poem Summer to bring out the symbolisms hidden in the painting. For instance, the storm is symbolized as the ancient fates delivering the judgment of Gods punishing mankind for participating in slavery.
In my own opinion, I find the argument in this chapter very persuasive. The authors use of art-historical evidence from literary works of other scholars to his general knowledge of the time period, do persuade and convince the reader to agree to the arguments he makes in this chapter. The author has used the condition of the painting to his advantage. He has described the painting to show the contrast of the two historical periods and used literary works such as Thompsons poem indicates the use of symbolisms on the painting. He used arguments made by other scholars on the painting to back up his about the painting. I would like to think that the intended audience of the authors work was art students and from how he has used the art-historical evidences to back up his reasoning, he has well catered for this audience. When this article is made accessible, it will be both interesting and helpful to various people around the world. The article is not only helpful to art students, but also historians who might want to learn more about the historical periods depicted in the painting The Slave Ship. The role of British in slave trade and the involvement of the Navy in slavery through the concept of pursuit and jettison can be interesting topics for historians to read on. The article can as well be informing to literature students. The literary works used in the article can inform these students on how the use symbolism and juxtaposition can be applied in literature. Therefore, this article is diverse. In that it can be used in various areas such as literature and history in general.
The article did not change how I perceived and saw the period of art that is being talked about in this article. The period of art being discussed in this article is one of the most important times in the history of art. It is during this time that numerous art pieces were created both literary works and paintings. Learning more about the painting The Slave Ship, does emphasis that this period indeed was an important time. The authors way of bringing up his arguments and how he uses his evidence to back them up, is very interesting. With this method, he easily convinces the reader to agree with him basing on his reasoning. The use of art-historical evidence is well done by the author making this article interesting to read.
Boime, A. Turners Slave Ship: The Victims of the Empire, Turners Studies. (1990). Pg 36.
Clarkson, T. The History of the Rise, progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of Slave-trade by Act of Parliament. 1839. London.
Marsh, J. Ruskin and Turners Slavery: Patriotic, Political and Pictorial Issues. 2001. Pg 48
McCoubrey, J. Turners Slave Ship: Abolition, Ruskin, and Reception. 1998. Pg 323-34.
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