"Portraits of Resistance" by Jennifer Van Horn

Portraits of Resistance Activating Art During Slavery Jennifer Van Horn

Publication date:
28 Jun 2022
Yale University Press
336 pages: 254 x 203mm
105 color + 34 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A highly original history of American portraiture that places the experiences of enslaved people at its center

This timely and eloquent book tells a new history of American art: how enslaved people mobilized portraiture for acts of defiance. Revisiting the origins of portrait painting in the United States, Jennifer Van Horn reveals how mythologies of whiteness and of nation building erased the aesthetic production of enslaved Americans of African descent and obscured the portrait’s importance as a site of resistance. Moving from the wharves of colonial Rhode Island to antebellum Louisiana plantations to South Carolina townhouses during the Civil War, the book illuminates how enslaved people’s relationships with portraits also shaped the trajectory of African American art post-emancipation. Van Horn asserts that Black creativity, subjecthood, viewership, and iconoclasm constituted instances of everyday rebellion against systemic oppression. Portraits of Resistance is not only a significant intervention in the fields of American art and history but also an important contribution to the reexamination of racial constructs on which American culture was built.

Jennifer Van Horn is associate professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware.

“A model of method, an investigative tour de force that fluidly mixes laborious archival research and time-honored art historical savvy.”—Paul Staiti, author of Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes

“Jennifer Van Horn accomplishes something that others have hardly imagined, relating a story of African American participation in and resistance to Euro-American visual culture throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”—Susan Rather, author of The American School: Artists and Status in the Late Colonial and Early National Era