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A Slave in a HarbourEnlarge image

A Slave in a Harbour, c. 1630-1660

Unknown (Flemish - 17th century)

oil on canvas
181.8 x 91.8 cm
Purchased 1914
National Gallery of Canada (no. 823)

The work offers a distant reflection of the slave trade. The ship and its crew are European, the merchants Turks or Arabs - the details fanciful, stock references. The peddlar-slave, together with the remarkable still-life at his feet, drew the artist's attention; he likely relied upon a life study for the man. The pair to this canvas, now lost, showed a young slave with a dog and parrot, his master's pets. For their privileged owner, the two works contrasted commerce and leisure. The artist has a sense for the material nature of the things he paints, yet his touch is broad and, as typical of Flemish painting, he balances part and whole.

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