Volume 1, Issue 2, Article 11 - 2019

(Un)Dress in Southworth & Hawes’ Daguerreotype Portraits: Clytie, Proserpine, and Antebellum Boston Women





Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes (2005) is a monumental exhibition catalogue showcasing the work of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. Together the partners established a renowned daguerreotype studio in mid-nineteenth-century Boston that catered to the city’s bourgeoisie. This paper seeks to unravel the mystery of dozens of daguerreotypes found in Young America, in which elite Boston women appear to be nearly nude. The unidentified women stand in stark contrast to the carefully concealed bodies of Southworth & Hawes’ other female subjects. Why would they expose themselves in such a manner before the camera’s lens? This paper attributes the women’s state of (un)dress to their deliberate emulation of two sculptures in the classical tradition: Clytie, a marble bust dating to antiquity, and Proserpine, a mid-nineteenth-century marble bust by American neoclassical sculptor Hiram Powers. This argument first reveals how a general “classical statue” aesthetic prevailed for women’s deportment in antebellum America, then demonstrates that the busts of Clytie and Proserpine had special significance as icons of white, elite female beauty in the period. Next, this paper makes the case that Southworth & Hawes devised a special style of photography deriving from their own daguerreotypes of the two statues, in which the women’s off-shoulder drapery was deliberately obscured allowing their female clientele to pose in the guise of these famous statues. The paper concludes by arguing that the women shown in these images could pose in this style without contravening societal norms, as these mythological figures were construed by women and men in the period to reflect the central precepts of the mid-nineteenth-century “Cult of True Womanhood.” Moreover, the busts offered sartorial models that reinforced standards of female dress as they related to class and privilege. By baring their flawless, white skin, however, the women positioned themselves at the crux of contentious beliefs about race in a deeply divided nation prior to the American Civil War.



  • fashion

  • sculpture

  • photography

  • Boston

  • mid-nineteenth century

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In 1839, the French government introduced a remarkable new discovery — the first viable form of photography, known as the daguerreotype. Two years later, an American named Albert Sands Southworth established a daguerreotype studio in Boston. [1] His aim was to create not just photographs, but art. [2] He was later joined by Josiah Johnson Hawes, a former artist who specialized in portrait painting. [3] Daguerreotypes are positive images produced individually on mirror-like sheets of silver-plated copper, covered by protective glass, and are notable for their detail and lifelike appearance. Southworth & Hawes recognized the new medium’s potential for replacing costly paintings with photographic portraits. The firm was later to advertise itself as: “the first in New England to apply [the daguerreotype] to likenesses from life.” [4]

       Although the partnership of Southworth & Hawes ended in 1862 when Southworth left the studio, Hawes continued to practice photography in Boston. Photographs and artifacts remained in the studio until the time of Hawes’ death in 1901, when family members came into possession of the surviving materials. As a consequence of their families’ stewardship and subsequent care by collectors and museums, a remarkable number of daguerreotypes produced by the studio have survived — more than two thousand — attesting to the photographers’ central place in the lives of elite Bostonians and other Americans who patronized their studio in the mid-nineteenth century. [5]

Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, published in 2005, is a monumental exhibition catalogue showcasing the surviving work of Southworth & Hawes’ studio. [6] The majority of images reproduced in Young America are portrait photographs, and most date to circa 1850. Pictured here are bourgeois citizens of the “Athens of America,” as Boston was known, including wealthy and largely conservative Boston Brahmins, American literary figures, artists, and politicians, and activists who took up the causes of transcendentalism, feminism, and abolitionism. [7] Among the famous subjects are politician Daniel Webster, writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, feminist, abolitionist, and temperance advocate Susan B. Anthony, Boston Brahmin Nathan Appleton, and visiting entertainer Lola Montez. [8] 


Hundreds of the sitters, however, are anonymous, yet they most certainly represent the elite of Boston society.

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Looking back on their studio years later, Hawes emphasized the partners’ wealthy clientele, recalling, “they were all ladies and gentlemen who came here.” He added, “They were men and women of family, and with names.” [9]

        Southworth & Hawes’ portraits of women, most of them in half- or three-quarter length, are especially splendid. In nearly five hundred daguerreotypes grouped over dozens of pages, Southworth & Hawes’ unidentified female subjects pose solemnly in heavy clothing against a white background. Their dress fabric, accentuated with dark lace and ribbon, conceals their entire bodies except for their heads, upper necks, and hands. While many women are bareheaded, a number cover themselves even more, with house caps or bonnets. The woman in Figure 1, who looks to be middle-aged, is typical of both younger women and others in her age group. Shown seated in a half-length portrait, she has hidden most of her neck and her collar bones with a white lace chemisette inserted into the deep V of the bodice of her dark dress. Her arms are covered by long, full sleeves and her hands appear to be sheathed in fingerless lace mittens. Her dress is enhanced by a silk shawl with an embroidered border, which provides another layer of fabric protection. The elongated hoop earrings and a small brooch pinned to her chemisette are subtle and appropriate accessories. The woman in Figure 2, also shown seated in a half-length portrait, adheres to the sartorial principles followed by older women in the Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes. Her voluminous dress fabric is a solid dark colour with no embellishment. Her neck is covered by a simple chemisette, and her head by a light-coloured house cap. Unlike her middle-aged counterpart, style is not a consideration here, only propriety. Taken together, the women’s refined, tasteful, and modest dress is in keeping with fashion dictates of the period. [10] Moreover, these images testify to the women’s positions of privilege in Boston’s patriarchal society, and the wealth of their male family members. [11]


Figure 2

Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman, possibly Mary Bickerdyke, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Whole plate, 21.6 x 16.5 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.

Figure 1

Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Whole plate, 21.6 x 16.5 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


Within this daguerreotype grouping, however, a sub-category of incongruous images attracts the eye: approximately seventy-five bust-length portraits of anonymous women in which they appear to be nude. They, too, pose against a white background, but in contrast to the majority of women in the catalogue, their necks, shoulders, and upper torsos are entirely bare. Below their shoulders, they are surely swathed in light-coloured drapery. Curiously, though, the fabric appears to be blurred out, creating the illusion of even more bare skin. In most cases, carefully composed hairstyles are the only decorative elements in the images. In most cases, carefully composed hairstyles are the only decorative elements in the images. Otherwise, the women are unadorned, with no jewellery or head coverings to disrupt the illusion of nudity (see Figure 3, Figure 4, and Figure 5).      


Figure 3

Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Sixth plate, 8.2 x 7.0 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


Figure 4

Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman in Profile, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Quarter plate, 10.8 x 8.3 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


Figure 5

Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Quarter plate, 9.0 x 6.6 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


Why would these women choose to expose themselves in such a manner before the camera’s lens?

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It is a particularly apt question since baring one’s skin was generally frowned upon for women in the period. In her book on etiquette entitled The Young Lady’s Friend, a Boston writer named Mrs. John Farrar cautioned her readers: “Whatever the fashions may be, never be induced by them to violate the strictest modesty. No woman can strip her arms to her shoulders and show her back and bosom without injuring her mind, and losing some of her refinement; if such would consult their brothers, they would tell them how men regard it.” [12]

       The question becomes more pressing when one considers that nudity in photography was extremely rare in the mid-nineteenth century. When it occurred, it fell into the realm of European erotica or pornography. [13] Nudity in photography was also used to bolster putatively “scientific” theories of race.  For example, in 1850, Harvard professor Louis Agassiz commissioned fifteen daguerreotypes of male and female slaves in South Carolina. His intent was to provide visual evidence for the newly popular racial theory of polygenesis, which argued that each race was a separate species. The camera captured its powerless subjects totally or partially undressed. In the decade prior to the American Civil War, the daguerreotypes “had two purposes,” writes Brian Wallis, “one nominally scientific, the other frankly political. They were designed to analyze the physical differences between European whites and African blacks, but at the same time they were meant to prove the superiority of the white race.” [14]

       More broadly, as Ruth Barcan states, conceptions of nudity in the “modern West” have been deeply influenced by the Judaic tradition, in which nudity was associated with “loss or deprivation… — the state of slaves, prostitutes, the damned or the mad.” [15] However, Barcan also notes there is another stream of thought that has influenced modern civilization: the Greek tradition, which, “in athletic and sculptural practice, saw nudity as state of the ideal human figure.” [16] It is the Greek tradition, and sculptural practice in particular, that provides an opening to understanding Southworth & Hawes’ puzzling photographs, in which the women voluntarily expose their bare skin, unlike the unwilling slaves in the photographs commissioned by Agassiz. This paper will argue that the “undressed” women found in the daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes were posing in the guise of idealized classical statuary, and two statues in particular: a bust of the female mythological figure Clytie, and a bust of the female mythological figure Proserpine.


The “Classical Statue” Aesthetic


The ancient Greek sculptural tradition was very much alive in America at the mid-point of nineteenth century. Both women and men associated female beauty with statuary in the classical tradition depicting idealized, frequently nude female figures. First created in ancient Greece and Rome, the style was revived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova and his followers. In Boston, women and men could view works of classical statuary reproduced in plaster and neoclassical works in marble at the Boston Athenaeum, a library with a large exhibition space. As Caroline Winterer writes, for the Athenaeum’s visitors of both sexes, “the female nude as the embodiment of Truth and Beauty could never entirely suppress its obvious use as a comparison set for real women.” [17]

       Periodicals such as Godey’s Lady’s Book — the most popular American women’s magazine at the time — reinforced the association between classical statuary and feminine beauty by providing exemplars of statue-like women for its readers to emulate in fiction and non-fiction. [18] In a short story from the January 1852 issue of Godey’s, a young woman’s attractive appearance is specifically connected to marble statuary. The scene is a party, and the woman, named Florence, enters the room, where she attracts the attention of a male admirer:

Herbert followed with his eyes the statuelike-looking young creature who passed by him. She was rather pale, with delicate and finely-chiseled features, a well-formed head, and beautifully set upon her shoulders. The throat and shoulders were exquisite, and the whole air was thoroughly aristocratic. The marble was evidently Parian, and the workmanship of the highest finish. [19]

Herbert is smitten with the statue-like woman and demands an introduction. Florence is cool to his advances. Herbert therefore tries to engage her through witty conversation: “He seemed, Prometheus-like, to have stolen fire from Heaven to animate his statue,” but Florence does not respond and leaves the party. Undeterred, Herbert continues his attempt to woo her over time, even as her distant air forms part of her appeal: “He felt that she was to be placed on a pedestal, and he willingly did homage to her shrine.” [20] Eventually Florence agrees to marry Herbert.

       In the story, Herbert is satisfied to set Florence “on a pedestal,” where he can admire her and, of course, enact a sense of ownership over his prized possession, his living work of statuary. Yet the story also suggests that a stylish woman could take what we might call a “classical statue” aesthetic and consciously mould it to her own purposes. Florence appears to be “statuelike,” and throughout the story the narrator makes it clear that this is a deliberate decision on her part.

       An article published in Godey’s in 1854 further models to American women that composing themselves in a statue-like manner is desirable, a means of expressing a sense of quiet dignity. The scene is a department store, and a young woman has arrived with other family members to shop for her wedding trousseau. Initially, she ignores the goings-on even as items are laid out for her consideration. The narrator tells us: “She was cold, polite, but indifferent. This I thought strange, till I remembered she was a fiancée, almost as good as a married lady already, and had therefore some dignity to sustain.” However, the business of shopping for her wedding trousseau eventually draws the young woman in: “What young lady of eighteen could maintain the appearance of indifference? It was not in nature — not in female nature. The statue descended from its pedestal; entered quietly and gracefully into the details before it; made selections with the taste of an artist and knowledge of a woman of fashion.” [21] With that, the shopping trip comes to a successful conclusion. Readers of the short story and article would understand that it was the role of men to “collect” women as if they were statues. At the same time, they would see that women could consciously exploit the prevailing “classical statue” aesthetic to their own ends, assuming a resemblance to a statue as they thought the situation required to appear more attractive, more composed, and more fashionable.


Clytie and Proserpine


The mid-nineteenth-century association between female beauty and classical statuary had its antecedents; in part, in the neoclassical period of the late eighteenth century, and Emma Hart’s (later, Lady Emma Hamilton’s) “attitude” performances. Covered only in light muslin, in a state she described as an “undress,” Hart posed before audiences in the guise of various female mythological figures, among them Niobe and Ariadne. [22] Amelia Rauser notes that illustrations of Hart in twelve of her “attitudes,” first published in 1794, “codified the ideal of the fashionable and aesthetically sophisticated woman as a living statue.” [23] Additionally, Hart established a prototype for women to emulate specific mythological figures derived from classical statuary, rather than simply “performing” a generalized “classical statue” aesthetic. [24] Were the women in the Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes under discussion engaged in a similar activity to Hart? And if so, which figures/statues were they modelling themselves upon?


Visual and textual evidence point to the marble busts of Clytie and Proserpine, two of the most famous works of art in the era.

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Both depicted female mythological figures, and both had a presence in Southworth & Hawes’ studio.

Clytie, dating to antiquity, was a prized possession of the eighteenth-century British connoisseur Charles Townley. The statue has been held by the British Museum since 1805 (Figure 6). [25] Proserpine is an original work created in 1843 by the American neoclassical sculptor Hiram Powers, who lived and worked in Florence, Italy (Figure 7). Ovid recounted the tales of each of these mythological figures in The Metamorphoses. The story of Clytie centres on a Greek sea nymph who is in love with Apollo, the sun god. Clytie takes desperate measures to attain Apollo’s affection by destroying the reputation and causing the death of Leucothoe, with whom Apollo is in love. Her plot fails, turning Apollo against her. Still, Clytie pines after him, eventually becoming rooted in the earth, whereby she is transformed into a heliotrope (later understood to be a sunflower), forever turning her head toward the sun in a never-ending act of love. [26] Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, and Jupiter, king of the gods, is captured by Pluto and carried off to the underworld. With the intervention of Jupiter, Ceres is able to bring her daughter above ground for six months of the year, the months that coincide with spring and summer. [27]


Figure 6

Clytie, Roman, c. AD 4050, Marble, 57.15 cm. British Museum, London. https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=460064&partId=1.

Figure 7

Hiram Powers, Proserpine, 1839–1873. Marble, 63.5 x 50.8 x 27.9 cm. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/proserpine-20131.


In these tales, the central female figures are inextricably tied to powerful male characters.


The Clytie and Proserpine busts embody in marble these mythological figures, portraying them as simultaneously vulnerable and seductive.

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The Clytie bust’s hair, parted in the middle, flows like rippling waves across the brow and in tendrils down the neck. The symmetrical face, with its pensive eyes, long nose, and pursed lips, is tilted downwards, suggesting Clytie’s permanently mournful state as a woman who can never attain the affection of her beloved, but who remains devoted to him nonetheless. Beneath the neck and visible collarbones, however, sheer drapery runs asymmetrically across the torso, exposing part of the left breast, and imbuing the figure with an erotic aura.

       More idealized than the bust of Clytie, Powers’ Proserpine in some ways lacks the former work’s overt vulnerability and sensuality. The hair is tightly bound and held in place by a fillet. The upright figure is regal and the face is nearly emotionless. In contrast to Clytie, the breasts of the figure are entirely exposed, thus offering viewers an impression of Proserpine’s defenceless state when taken captive by Pluto against her will but also a tantalizing simulacrum of a nude female torso. [28]

       Elite Anglo-American male art collectors were entranced by the two statues and purchased copies of the Clytie and Proserpine busts for enjoyment in their homes, often in the company of other men. In Johann Zoffany’s famous painting Charles Townley in His Sculpture Gallery (1782), Townley’s bust of Clytie sits in a privileged place near the centre of the painting, surrounded by his male friends. The location is not surprising, as the bust was known to be one of Townley’s favourite works. Indeed, Clytie so captivated Townley that he reportedly referred to the work as his “wife.” [29] Joseph Nollekens, the pre-eminent British sculptor of the late eighteenth century, sold copies of the bust in his studio, indicating Clytie’s wide appeal to elite men. [30] In Boston, the wealthy politician Francis Calley Gray is known to have owned a copy in marble of the original from the British Museum. Walter Channing, a local physician who visited Gray’s home, composed a sonnet in which he declared his love for Gray’s bust of Clytie. Channing was surely emulating Gray, who was in turn emulating Townley. [31]

       Wealthy British and American men also coveted Powers’ Proserpine. In a letter to Hiram Powers, one Philadelphia man yearned for the arrival of his Proserpine, on order from Florence, as if he were awaiting his beloved. [32] Over time, Powers made more than 150 replicas of Proserpine in three versions, more than any other work of American neoclassical sculpture. [33] These included one that made its way to Boston in 1849, where it was exhibited to the public with other works by Hiram Powers. It was subsequently purchased by a New York collector named Sidney Brooks. [34]

       The Zoffany painting of Charles Townley’s sculpture gallery demonstrates the British collector’s desire to flaunt his three-dimensional statues in the two-dimensional form of painting. Southworth & Hawes evidently believed there was potential to encourage local collectors to do the same, but in the new medium of photography. In an advertising campaign from the early 1850s, they promoted their mastery at reproducing works of statuary. [35] The Young America catalogue reveals the partners took at least two different views of the Clytie bust, dating to circa 1850. One, surviving in a whole-plate format, shows the statue in a three-quarter view (Figure 8). The other, surviving in a quarter-plate format, depicts it in profile. [36] The Clytie statue Southworth & Hawes photographed could have been the marble bust owned by Francis Calley Gray or a copy of the statue produced by a local sculptor, possibly owned by another collector. [37] Correspondence from the studio indicates that Southworth also photographed the aforementioned Sidney Brooks’ version of Proserpine. [38] He may have done so from more than one vantage point, as the partners did with the Clytie bust.


Figure 8

Southworth & Hawes, Clytie by Harriet Hosmer?, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Whole plate, 21.5 x 16.5 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


“Vignettes or Heads Simply”


Southworth & Hawes would have most certainly exhibited their daguerreotypes of Clytie and Proserpine in their studio.


The studio was a pivotal social and cultural space for well-off mid-nineteenth-century Bostonians and visitors to the city.

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While no photographs of the interior of the studio are known to exist, a pencil sketch reveals its layout. The space included a large loft with a skylight, where the photography took place and, on a lower floor, a reception room combined with an exhibition room. [39] During photography sessions, the partners made a habit of daguerreotyping a variety of views of their sitters, keeping any photographs their clients didn’t want. They then displayed their best remaining work in the exhibition room. [40] Visitors would regularly drop in to examine the daguerreotypes on view, even if they were not scheduled to have their photographs taken. [41] Along with portraits of esteemed Bostonians and famous individuals, visitors could examine the partners’ photographs of renowned works of sculpture.

       Although apparently no daguerreotypes by Southworth & Hawes of Brooks’ Proserpine have survived, the two of Clytie reproduced in the Young America catalogue reveal the partners photographed that bust with great sensitivity. Both daguerreotypes of Clytie emphasize the statue’s delicate beauty, although each gives a somewhat different impression. The three-quarter view, with its slightly turned head and lightly draped breasts, reinforces the bust’s sensual qualities. The profile, on the other hand, emphasizes the lightly draped right shoulder and allows for a better view of the Clytie bust’s spiralling curls as they flow tantalizingly down the back of the neck. It is reasonable to surmise that any daguerreotypes the partners took of Proserpine would have been handled with similar artistry. The resulting daguerreotypes, mounted in the exhibition room, would have depicted for visitors two icons of mid-nineteenth-century female beauty.

More importantly for this discussion, Southworth & Hawes appear to have encouraged their female sitters to pose in a manner that closely resembled their own daguerreotypes of the Clytie and Proserpine busts, a process enabled by a new style photographic style they called “Vignettes or Heads Simply.” [42] Southworth & Hawes promoted their “Vignettes or Heads Simply” style in their 1850s advertising campaign. The ad copy declares: “This is our own style — we were the first to practice it, and in it are some of our very best pictures . . . . The strength and boldness of the effect can be equalled in no other way.” The key characteristic of the style is that “no drapery attracts the eye from the face and its character.” [43]

       It is likely that when developing this particular vignetting style, the partners looked to the work of a local competitor, the Boston photographer John A. Whipple. [44] In 1849, Whipple patented a technique that became known as the Crayon Daguerreotype. His goal was to reproduce the effect of contemporary black-and-white crayon portraits in daguerreotype form. In the crayon portraits, produced on white paper, clothing fades out to white, appearing to evaporate in order to draw attention to the subject’s face. Therefore, in his Crayon Daguerreotypes, taken against a white backdrop, Whipple strove to “intercept from the camera such parts of the dress or person as it may be desirable not to represent.” [45] In 1858, S.D. Humphrey noted one method for producing the Crayon Daguerreotype. It involved using a piece of white or light-coloured paper cut into a semi-circle and hanging from a wire frame, which “moved in front of the lower part of the body of the sitter during the time of exposure of the plate in the camera.” [46]

       Southworth & Hawes deny in the previously quoted ad that their “Vignettes or Heads Simply” style had anything to do with Whipple’s Crayon Daguerreotypes. [47] And indeed, the partners seemed to have had another goal in mind — to imitate their own daguerreotypes of the Clytie and Proserpine busts. The “Vignettes or Heads Simply” style allowed them to suggest simultaneously the light, classical drapery of the Clytie bust and the complete lack of drapery in the case of the Proserpine bust, while still protecting their sitters’ modesty. Consider the young woman from Figure 3, in comparison to Southworth & Hawes’ whole plate daguerreotype of Clytie: the sitter’s downturned head, melancholy gaze, soft, pursed lips, wavy, centre-parted hair with cascading curls, and bare shoulders and back. Her portrait is nearly a mirror image of Clytie in the Southworth & Hawes daguerreotype (Figure 9). The deportment the woman in Figure 5 is suggestive of a possible daguerreotype taken by Southworth & Hawes showing Powers’ Proserpine in profile: the sitter’s centre-parted hair is pinned up elaborately above her neck and her chin juts out almost at a right angle to her neck. She shares the Proserpine bust’s quiet yet regal bearing and the bust’s exposed upper body (or at least the suggestion thereof). In Figure 6, the woman’s hairstyle approximates Clytie’s, while the angle of her head, firmly pressed lips, and cool gaze echo the appearance of the Proserpine bust when viewed and photographed slightly from the right, resulting in a combination of the two. Once these similarities between Southworth & Hawes’ daguerreotypes of Clytie and Proserpine have been discerned, one can recognize them again and again in the partners’ portraits of the women in their state of “undress.” [48] They look like statues.   


Figure 9

Left: Southworth & Hawes, Unidentified Woman, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Sixth plate, 8.2 x 7.0 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum

Right: Southworth & Hawes, Clytie by Harriet Hosmer?, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype Whole plate, 21.5 x 16.5 cm. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.


How did the partners achieve this uncanny process of metamorphosis? It would not have been possible without the cooperation, and indeed, effort of their sitters. Advance preparation would be essential, and in an article by Albert Southworth offering advice about preparing for daguerreotype portraits, he writes recommends sitters “practice, with a friend to prompt, before a mirror.” [49] It is advice his female clientele clearly took seriously, for in the Young America catalogue, three whole plates with multiple exposures demonstrate the results of such rehearsal sessions, each showing a different woman assuming a variety of facial expressions before the camera. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume the partners sold daguerreotype copies of their original Clytie and Proserpine daguerreotypes, which women could take home to study and imitate. Upon their arrival at Southworth & Hawes’ studio, they would be prepared to assume their carefully rehearsed poses. Then, they would be swathed in light drapery by female studio assistants, fabric that Southworth & Hawes would carefully obscure in their daguerreotype portraits.         

       The resulting images represent a remarkably successful collaboration between Southworth and Hawes and their female subjects. The daguerreotypes simultaneously encapsulate the “classical statue” aesthetic (in the specific form of Clytie and/or Proserpine) and draw viewers’ attention to the sitters’ faces, as Southworth and Hawes intended. And yet, the nature of the sitters’ character remains in question. The employment of the “Vignettes or Heads Simply” style in these daguerreotypes also, of course, emphasizes the women’s nearly nude state, thus potentially raising doubts in mid-nineteenth-century spectators’ minds about the women’s virtue. Therefore, the question remains — why would they agree to be permanently recorded in such a state of “undress” in their daguerreotype portraits?


Messages in Marble


The answer lies in the fact that mid-nineteenth-century American women had their own unique relationship with Clytie and Proserpine. Translated into marble, these mythological figures were undoubtedly sources of delectation for men. For women, however, the statues operated as symbolic objects that fortified contemporary notions of proper feminine behaviour. Elite antebellum American women were well informed about classical antiquity, thanks to female educational academies that privileged classical studies; informal “reading circles” geared towards women; and institutions such as the Boston Athenaeum. [50] As Caroline Winterer has written, “long viewed by historians as a citadel of masculine knowledge about statecraft and erudition, classicism was equally meaningful to women: it was the wallpaper of their world, a world of reading and writing, getting and spending, aesthetics and experience.” [51]

       Clytie and Proserpine, in particular, were not distant characters from the ancient past, but rather stood as personifications of the central precepts of mid-nineteenth-century values pertaining to gender. Their complicated and questionable relationships with men were re-cast in women’s minds as exemplars of feminine behaviour. Despite the cruel damage Clytie inflicted on Leucothoe, her state as a sunflower permanently longing for Apollo’s love symbolized a woman’s devotion to her husband. [52] Pluto’s brutal abduction of Proserpine was overlooked in favour of a narrative that emphasized how a woman must separate from her mother upon marriage as she transfers her affection to her husband. [53] Together, Clytie and Proserpine represented the virtues of the mid-nineteenth-century “Cult of True Womanhood” — piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. [54]

       Accordingly, the busts of Clytie and Proserpine entered the private, feminine realm of mid-nineteenth-century households. As of the early 1850s, the public could purchase porcelain reproductions of Clytie for display in Victorian-era parlours. [55] Parents often presented a bust of Proserpine to their newly married daughters. [56] More significantly for the purposes of this discussion, the parents of a young Massachusetts woman, Martha Endicott Peabody, commissioned Hiram Powers to sculpt their daughter’s portrait in the very image of his own Proserpine (with the addition of light drapery). [57] Southworth & Hawes most certainly understood the significance of Clytie and Proserpine to their female clientele. Equally, their female clientele would have understood that they were enacting and reinforcing their prescribed gender roles by posing in emulation of the two statues. [58]

Furthermore, the Clytie and Proserpine busts, with their nearly nude or nude upper bodies, acted as sartorial models that enabled women imitating them to reinforce their elite status in Boston society.


By posing with their skin largely uncovered, the sitters were able to impress upon spectators their positions of privilege.

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Their exposed appearance suggested the one situation in which a woman could “strip her arms to her shoulders and show her back and bosom,” despite the admonitions of The Young Lady’s Friend — in the low-cut evening gowns women donned for dinner parties, the theatre, and especially, balls. [59] Balls provided a sanctioned and public means for young women to entice new suitors, and mothers were not above encouraging their daughters to display “a chaste but promising décolletage.” [60]

        Once settled into a prosperous marriage, a woman’s presence at the ball, in her elaborate yet revealing gown, was equally an important indicator of her husband’s wealth and status. The unblemished white skin of her upper body demonstrated she was not subject to the punishments of physical labour. The ability to dance into the night, and sleep well into the next day, further signified a life of leisure. [61] The women in the Southworth & Hawes’ daguerreotypes, in their state of undress, would surely recall for viewers the sight of women at their most exposed in ballroom settings. Any suggestion of eroticism would have been countered by the realization that the women in the photographs were signalling the prestige of their families just as effectively as Southworth & Hawes’ sitters who covered themselves in dark and expensive clothing.

       The busts operated in another manner, however, one that extended beyond women’s intimate connection with Clytie and Proserpine. For when the women in the “Vignettes or Heads Simply” daguerreotypes seemingly metamorphosed into busts of pure marble, the sitters’ pale skin conveyed a silent but potent message about race during a particularly fractious period in antebellum American history. It was a message that reached back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and that explicitly connected statuary in the classical tradition with the supposed superiority of the white race. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German scholar and specialist in classical sculpture, declared in 1764 that “a body is all the more beautiful the whiter it is.” [62] During the neoclassical period of Emma Hart, classical statuary was not only associated with idealized feminine beauty but specifically with white feminine beauty: E. Claire Cage writes that in the late eighteenth century “statuary metaphors… situated women…as embodiments of aesthetic ideals of whiteness… In dress, as well as in complexion, white reigned as the ideal.” [63] By 1814, archaeological research revealed that classical Greek sculpture was not originally white at all, but rather painted in vibrant colours. Yet neoclassical sculptors from Antonio Canova onward largely continued to follow the dictates of Winckelmann, eschewing any hint of polychromy in their work in favour of the “purity” of white marble. [64]

       In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced escaped slaves in the North to be returned to their Southern owners. Andrew Delbanco writes, “It was meant to be a remedy and salve, but it turned out to be an incendiary event that lit the fuse that led to civil war.” [65] In addition to the political chaos instigated by the Fugitive Slave Act, a fundamental mid-nineteenth-century paradox further fueled the oppression of black women and men in America, whether free or enslaved — it was possible for advocates of abolition to believe concurrently in the inferiority of black people. One of these was Louis Agassiz, instigator of the photographs of slaves discussed above. [66] Against such a fraught backdrop, the Greek sculptural tradition, which positioned the white, nude body as the ideal body, was inevitably implicated. Indeed, Charmaine A. Nelson has argued, “quite simply, the term classical was not neutral, but a racialized term that activated the marginalization of blackness as its antithesis.” [67] Modelling themselves after the marble busts of Clytie and Proserpine, the women in Southworth & Hawes’ daguerreotype portraits reinforced precepts central to their role as elite Boston women, to be sure. At the same time, however, by posing in a state of “undress,” the women embodied a fundamental element of colonialism — the erasure and repudiation of any colour but white. [68]   



1. Grant B. Romer, “‘A High Reputation with All True Artists and Connoisseurs’: The Daguerreian Careers of A.S. Southworth and J.J. Hawes” in Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, eds. Grant B. Romer and Brian Wallis (Göttingen, New York, and Rochester, NY: Steidl, International Center for Photography, and George Eastman House, 2005), 27.

2. Romer and Wallis, Young America, 10.

3. Romer, “‘A High Reputation,’” 24.

4. “Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms, No. 5 ½ Tremont Row, Boston. Southworth & Hawes,” The Massachusetts Register and United States Calendar for the Year of Our Lord 1852, 327, https://books.google.ca/books?id=4u0CAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA327&lpg=PA327&dq=vignettes+and+heads+simply+southworth+and+hawes&source=bl&ots=yhAp9X1pXr&sig=wInBqSvFuvxYJ65fMvdkKAYZMC4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiIv9yqi-TfAhWpoIMKHYQ-BYgQ6AEwDHoECAQQAQ#v=onepage&q=vignettes%20and%20heads%20simply%20southworth%20and%20hawes&f=false, accessed January 10, 2019. For a description of the daguerreotype process provided by Albert Southworth himself, see his article entitled “Daguerreotypes” on the same page.

5. Romer and Wallace, Young America, 11.

6. Ibid. In their introduction to Young America, Grant A. Romer and Brian Wallis write that they hope “the exhibition together with the catalogue of Southworth & Hawes’ known production will promote better connoisseurship, encourage further inquiry, and support additional research, allowing future generations to discover and interpret their achievement.” I am indebted to their foundational work, which inspired my attempt in this paper to shed additional light on the daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes.

7. Ibid.

8. For short biographies of identified sitters photographed by Southworth & Hawes, which indicate the breadth of their experiences and viewpoints, see Romer and Wallis, Young America, 273-311.

9. John Stauffer, “Daguerreotyping the National Soul: The Portraits of Southworth & Hawes, 1843–1860,” in Romer and Wallis, Young America, 59.

10. Mary Philadelphia Merrifield was a British author whose book Dress as a Fine Art was published in 1854. Godey’s Lady’s Book published excerpts from the book for its American readers. In one example of contemporary guidelines for mid-nineteenth women’s dress, the author writes, “The style of dress should be adapted to the age of the wearer. As a general rule, we should say that in youth the dress should be simple and elegant…. In middle age, the dress may be of rich materials, and more splendid in its character; jewels are the appropriate ornaments. In the decline of life, the materials of which the dress is composed may be equally rich, but with less vivacious colors…and the character of the whole costume should be quiet, simple, and dignified.” See Mrs. Merrifield, “Dress – as a Fine Art,” Godey’s Lady’s Book 48 (April 1854): 348, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58494/58494-h/58494-h.htm#Page_347, accessed January 6, 2019.

11. In daguerreotype portraits, dress “could communicate ideas about a person’s social class, degree of wealth, age, and gender.” Christina M. Johnson, “‘Each Button, Button-Hole, and Every Fold’: Dress in the American Daguerreotype Portrait,” Dress 31 (2004): 28. For detailed discussions of nineteenth-century American dress in daguerreotype portraiture, see Joan Severa, My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2005) and Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840–1900 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997); also Priscilla Harris Dalrymple, American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991). For an interesting parallel investigation of women’s dress in daguerreotype portraits in Ontario, Canada, see M. Elaine Mackay, “Through the Lens of Fashion: An Analysis of Clothing Styles of Women in Early Victorian Ontario” (MA thesis, Ryerson University, 2012). For a general overview of Victorian women’s fashion and its care, see Christina Walkley and Vanda Foster, Crinolines and Crimping Irons: Victorian Clothes: How They Were Cleaned and Cared For (London: Peter Owen, 1978).

12. Aileen Ribeiro, Dress and Morality (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1986), 129, 183n31. Ribeiro cites her source as follows in her note: “E. Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend, New York, 1845, p. 368.” She is referring to the Boston writer Eliza Ware Farrar. However, it is worth noting that the book was first published in 1836, written “by a Lady,” and then subsequently published in several editions. The writer is identified as Mrs. John Farrar in the 1845 edition. I have added the first sentence to Ribeiro’s original quotation. See Mrs. John Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend (New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1845), 368, https://books.google.ca/books?id=z8dYAAAAcAAJ&pg=PR3&dq=the+young+lady%27s+friend+1845&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiWxZrQl_zjAhXkB50JHQKYC6kQ6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q=the%20young%20lady%27s%20friend%201845&f=false, accessed August 11, 2019.

13. For a discussion of nudity in nineteenth-century European photography, see Elizabeth Anne McCauley, “Secret Seraglios: Tracking the Female Nude in the History of Nineteenth-Century Photography,” in Histoire de l’art du XIXe siècle (1848–1914): Bilans et perspectives, eds. Claire Barbillon, Catherine Chevillot, and François-René Martin (École du Louvre, 2012), 574-89.

14. Brian Wallis, “Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerreotypes,” American Art 9 (Summer 1995): 40. For a more recent discussion of the Agassiz daguerreotypes that links them to pornography, see Suzanne Schneider, “Louis Agassiz and the American School of Ethnoeroticism: Polygenesis, Pornography, and other ‘Perfidious Influences’” in Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity, eds. Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2012), 211-43.

15. Ruth Barcan, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy (Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2004), 7.

16. Ibid.

17. Caroline Winterer, The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750–1900 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2007), 157.

18. Godey’s Lady’s Book was the highest circulating magazine in America, with 150,000 subscribers just prior to the Civil War. See Laura McCall, “‘The Reign of Brute Force is Now Over’: A Content Analysis of Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1830–1860,” Journal of the Early Republic 9 (Summer 1989): 221.

19. F. E. F., “The First and Second Marriage,” Godey’s Lady’s Book 44 (January 1852): 42, https://books.google.ca/books?id=XdgRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=F.E.F.+the+first+and+second+marriage&source=bl&ots=GANcMcfhuR&sig=JCU8x6W9JGP6dyOYrDUXM-_Q43Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiIidPysdrfAhWPo4MKHfgAB_AQ6AEwEnoECAMQAQ#v=onepage&q=F.E.F.%20the%20first%20and%20second%20marriage&f=false, accessed January 6, 2019.

20. Ibid.

21. Mrs. Alaric Watts, “The Philosophy of Shopping,” Godey’s Lady’s Book 48 (January 1854): 35, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/49380/49380-h/49380-h.htm, accessed January 6, 2019.

22. Amelia Rauser, “Living Statues and Neoclassical Dress in Late Eighteenth-Century Naples,” Art History 38 (June 2015): 470-4.

23. Ibid., 475. The twelve outline drawings were the work of Frederick Rehberg, engraved by Tommaso Piroli.

24. Ibid., 470. Rauser writes that viewers “saw Hart as actually embodying antique artworks during her performances, bringing them vividly to life.”

25. Although the statue bust’s identity is today uncertain, in the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century it was understood to represent the mythological figure of Clytie. The British Museum considers Clytie to be a Roman work from about ad 40–50, and suggests it was re-cut in the eighteenth century. Note that the British museum’s Clytie should not be confused with Hiram Powers’ conception of the figure, dating to 1867.

26. Ovid, The Metamorphoses, vol. 1, trans. Dryden, Pope, Congreve, Addison, and others (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1872), 109-13, https://books.google.ca/books?id=QzgWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=ovid+metamorphoses+clytie&source=bl&ots=eZfbCPpvKa&sig=ACfU3U0iLSnAsE1Wf_XNn4nIP1EcVGcHAg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjhtZb1i8LiAhULqlkKHR7vC2A4FBDoATAGegQIChAB#v=onepage&q=ovid%20metamorphoses%20clytie&f=false, accessed June 5, 2019.

27. Ibid., 150-9.

28. Lauren Keach Lessing ties Powers’ conception of Proserpine directly to the illustrations in Godey’s Lady’s Book when she remarks that “to any mid-nineteenth-century viewer, she would have been immediately familiar. The same face poses demurely from countless pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Grahams Magazine, and from the popular chromolithographs of Currier & Ives. It is a type that Lois Banner has described as ‘the steel-engraving lady.’” Lessing’s proposal has merit, but it overlooks the similarity between the much earlier Clytie bust and the portrayal of women in the steel engravings. See Lauren Keach Lessing, “Presiding Divinities: Ideal Sculpture in Nineteenth-Century American Domestic Interiors” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 2006), 84-6. For an interesting general discussion of the overlooked importance of the steel engravings in Godey’s Lady’s Book, see Isabelle Lehuu, “Sentimental Figures: Reading Godey’s Lady’s Book in Antebellum America,” in The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Shirley Samuels (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 73-91.

29. Viccy Coltman, “Representation, Replication and Collecting in Charles Townley’s Late Eighteenth-Century Library,” Art History 29 (April 2006): 308.

30. B.F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London: British Museum, 1985), 15.

31. Walter Channing, “To Clytie,” in Old and New (Boston, 1851), 124, 148n18.  https://books.google.ca/books?id=FyotAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA148&lpg=PA148&dq=Walter+channing+clytie+old+and+new&source=bl&ots=kOYMjJEdHx&sig=1nbkbPMprHjwKaxCERMpFDgAJpA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi5lP_AvPDfAhVj04MKHXnWCtoQ6AEwBnoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Walter%20channing%20clytie%20old%20and%20new&f=false, accessed January 10, 2019.

32. Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers, Vermont Sculptor, 1805–1873, vol. 1 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1991), 138.

33. Wunder, Hiram Powers, vol. 2, 187-202. See also Lessing, “Presiding Divinities,” 17. Today, Hiram Powers is best known for his full-length state The Greek Slave, first rendered in marble in 1844. It depicts a nude female that Powers described as a young Greek woman taken captive by the Ottomans during the Greek War of Independence (1821-30). While The Greek Slave was reproduced in numerous versions by Powers and widely exhibited, Proserpine was collected in far greater numbers.

34. The location of Sidney Brooks’ version of Proserpine is unknown, if it has indeed survived, but it was probably similar to the bust in Figure 8, held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. For information about Brooks’ purchase and the Smithsonian version, see Wunder, Hiram Powers, vol. 2, 191.

35.  “Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms,” 328.

36. Romer and Wallis, Young America, 486, Figure 1991.

37. Local sculptors Richard King and Harriet Hosmer are both known to have produced copies of the Clytie bust. See Channing, “To Clytie,” 124, 148-9n18 for a reference to Richard King. Harriet Hosmer’s letters, held by the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University, indicate that Hosmer created a plaster cast of the Clytie bust in 1851.

38. Albert Southworth’s sister Nancy was married to Hawes and worked in the studio. In August 1849, Nancy wrote to Albert, who had temporarily left the firm in an attempt to cash in on the California gold rush. Discussing the exhibition of Powers’ work, she notes “The Perserpine [sic] is called very beautiful, and is the same one Mr. Brooks offered you to copy.” Southworth & Hawes used the word “copy” interchangeably for two different services they provided to their clientele. While original daguerreotypes cannot be reproduced from a negative in the way that photographs produced on paper can, it is possible to take daguerreotypes of daguerreotypes and make copies that way, which Southworth & Hawes did. However, they also used the term “copying” when taking daguerreotypes of works of art, including sculpture, paintings, drawings, and engravings. See Romer, “‘A High Reputation,’” 34, 50.

39. Ibid., 29.

40. Ibid., 49.

41. Ibid., 34.

42. Ibid., 32-3. Innovation was a constant preoccupation of the partners who were always seeking ways to attract new business.

43. Notably, just above, in a section of the ad entitled “Drapery, Dress and Ornaments,” the term “drapery” is clearly associated with women and children’s dress (as opposed to ornamental drapery often found in the background of nineteenth-century photographs). See “Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms,” 327-8. Moreover, an advertisement from 1843 states that “Mrs. Southworth will wait upon Ladies and assist them in arranging their drapery.” See Romer and Wallis, Young America, 536.

44. See Romer, “‘A High Reputation,’” 49.

45.  “United States Patent Office. John A. Whipple, of Boston, Massachusetts. Improvement in Taking Daguerreotype- Pictures,” January 23, 1849, https://patents.google.com/patent/US6056A/en, accessed January 10, 2019.

46. S.D. Humphrey, American Hand Book of The Daguerreotype, 5th ed. (New York: Published by S.D. Humphrey, 1858), 170, https://books.google.ca/books?id=2HtLAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA170&dq=crayon+daguerreotypes+samuel+humphrey&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiC947OrO3fAhVL6oMKHSbbAdsQ6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q=crayon%20daguerreotypes%20samuel%20humphrey&f=false, accessed January 10, 2019.

47.  “Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms,” 327.

48. It should be noted that many of the Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes have suffered from a form of damage known as hazing, which also produces a whitish blurry or cloudy effect. For an analysis of the hazing problem, see Mike Robinson and Edward P. Vicenzi, “A Twin Paradox: A Study of Preservation and Disfigurement of Southworth and Hawes Daguerreotypes,” presented at the 2015 PMG Winter Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a63a84d692ebe91943f2e97/t/5a8d8ef10d9297cc5ffa2f99/1519226619099/TwinParadox_Robinson-Vicenzi.pdf, accessed January 10, 2019. However, in a telephone conversation with Dr. Mike Robinson on May 7, 2019, he clarified that the blurred effect in the daguerreotypes in Figure 3, Figure 4, and Figure 5 (and the related daguerreotypes in Young America) are in an intentional style referred to as white-on-white vignetting, employed by Southworth & Hawes, and related to, if not derived from, Whipple’s patented technique. He also explained that another method for producing this effect involved the use of cotton balls placed in front of the camera’s lens. I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Robinson for taking the time to discuss this matter with me.

49. Albert S. Southworth, “Suggestions to Ladies Who Sit for Daguerreotypes,” http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/spirit_trouts/mnookin/ladies.htm, accessed January 6, 2019. See, for example, Romer and Wallis, Young America, 386-7, Figure 1102, Figure 1104, and Figure 1106.

50. Winterer, Mirror of Antiquity, 3.

51. Ibid., 2.

52. Marcia Pointon, Naked Authority: The Body in Western Painting 1830–1908 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 33.

53. Lessing, “Presiding Divinities,” 81-83.

54. Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966): 152.

55. Pointon, Naked Authority, 33.

56. Lessing, “Presiding Divinities,” 12-3.

57. Ibid., 111-2. See also Wunder, Hiram Powers, vol. 2, 88-9.

58. Martha Endicott Peabody’s cousin, Antiss Derby Rogers Wetmore, seemingly eschewed any drapery when she sat for Powers as Proserpine. As with the sculptor’s depiction of the mythological figure, her breasts were uncovered in the finished statue. Her portrait bust caused a local scandal upon its delivery from Powers’ Florence studio to the New York home of Wetmore and her husband in 1849. As Richard P. Wunder notes, “Wetmore [Antiss’ husband] was disappointed when he saw it, and a friend of his, William S. Miller, also had similar feelings when he saw the finished bust in the sculptor’s studio. Miller…informed Powers, ‘You have been probably advised of the arrival of the bust of Mrs. W. It is exhibited as it came from the studio, and the Lady (as I think I suggested she would) attempts to release herself from the charge of immodesty in the display of the bosom by stating that [it] was your idea; that you advised the ideal form and finish. There is a good deal of talk about it, and I have not hesitated to say that the whole was her own fancy, and that you seriously regretted having engaged to execute her bust in that style. And, am I right?’ Unfortunately Powers’ answer to that question is not preserved.” The incident serves as a reminder that the “blurred” drapery in Southworth & Hawes’ “Vignettes or Heads Simply” daguerreotypes was an important protective strategy developed by the partners, creating an indefinite but still critical line between nudity and propriety that spared their sitters from similar criticism and shaming. See Wunder, Hiram Powers, vol. 2, 106-7.

59. Philippe Perrot, Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Richard Bienvenu (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 96-7.

60. Ibid., 98.

61. Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest (New York and London: Routledge, 1995), 97-8.

62. Quoted in Wolfgang Drost, “Colour, Sculpture, Mimesis: A 19th-Century Debate,” in The Colour of Sculpture, ed. Andreas Blühm, (Amsterdam, Leeds, and Zwolle: Van Gogh Museum, Henry Moore Institute, and Waanders Uitgevers, 1998), 62.

63. E. Claire Cage, “The Sartorial Self: Neoclassical Fashion and Gender Identity in France, 1797–1804,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 42 (Winter 2009): 206-7.

64. “Unlike other forms of sculpture or types of art, the medium of white marble was itself inherent to the practice of nineteenth-century neoclassical sculpture. The deliberate whiteness of the marble medium was not of arbitrary significance. Rather, it functioned to mediate the representation of the racialized body in ways that preserved a moral imperative. During the mid-nineteenth century, notable neoclassical sculptors, their patrons and critics openly rejected the aesthetic possibilities of applied and material polychromy as an overly sensual and decorative distraction that detracted from the ‘true’ intention and purpose of sculpture — purity and form.” Charmaine A. Nelson, Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), 142.

65. Andrew Delbanco, The War Before the War:  Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 5.

66. Wallis, “Black Bodies,” 44.

67. Nelson, Representing the Female Black Subject, 141.

68. Ibid., 147. Nelson argues that in the colonial context “whiteness, the privileged signifier of race/colour, is not wholly interchangeable with white skin but is dependent upon and bound to the racialization of whiteness. The whiteness of the marble, as deployed within nineteenth-century neoclassical canons, did not directly represent Caucasian skin colour but stood in for that which could not be signified,… too palpable flesh…. But in as much as it signified that which it displaced — flesh — it privileged the European race/colour as the source of the signification and disavowed the possibility of ‘other’ race/colour significations at the level of skin.”

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Author Biography


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Margo L. Beggs

Independent scholar


Dr. Margo L. Beggs is an independent scholar in Toronto, ON, specializing in nineteenth-century art and visual culture.

She received a PhD from the Department of History of Art at the University of Toronto in 2013. From 2007–2016, she was a sessional lecturer in art history at the University of Toronto (St. George and Mississauga campuses), and at Ryerson University in the School of Image Arts from 2008–2009.  Her research seeks to enliven our understanding of sculpture in the classical tradition and its reception in the nineteenth century, which she investigates through an interdisciplinary lens drawing on the history of photography, fashion, and collection and display practices in domestic settings.

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Sine Qua Non: An Exploration of a “Catholic Imagination” at the Met by Mark O’Connell


Hurricane Katrina Hair: Rereading Nineteenth-Century Commemorative Hair Forms and Fragments by Esther Berry

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