When she was first rendered as an engraving by Thomas Stothard, in the late eighteenth century, and later painted, in 1801—and still today—“The Voyage of the Sable Venus” was considered a visual travesty, an inversion of order. “How, at the height of slavery, could a black woman be drawn by dolphins through the primordial seas, adored and attended by the gods of Classical Greece?” goes the purist response, meaning the gods would never be seen in the company of a black female body, not to mention serve as her attendants. Others, recognizing immediately the atrocious irony, still question whether the painting was a satire. For, in 1801, her scallop shell could only be a metaphorical slave ship. Did the Sable Venus enjoy her trip across the Atlantic, gliding along the Middle Passage, guided by a white male celestial harem, destined for slavery?
Leave a Reply