A Young Girl with an Enslaved Servant and a Dog

A Young Girl with an Enslaved Servant and a Dog

ca. 1725
Bartholomew Dandridge
Oil on canvas
48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)
     In a private garden, a young girl stands in a lace-trimmed dress, accompanied by a dog and an enslaved servant, who hands her a basket overflowing with peaches and freshly picked grapes. The servant and dog both wear metal collars that mark them as property. The dog’s collar is inscribed with what may be a name, possibly referring to the girl’s father; as a young woman, she could not own property.
    In this portrait, Dandridge signals the girl’s virtues in several ways. The servant and dog gaze up at her, while she looks out at the viewer, establishing her central role and position of power in this scene. Dandridge’s painting gives especially clear expression to the way that many eighteenth-century portraits constructed their white sitters’ identities in relation to perceived “others,” including non-Europeans and animals. (A commonly held view in this period was that white Europeans occupied the highest point in a hierarchy of being in which black Africans ranked lower, and animals lower still.) 
    The relief on the urn, which shows a group of cherubs taming a wild goat—an allegory of carnal lust—serves as a contrast to the ostensibly chaste, “domesticated” love, which the young girl is shown to inspire in her two attendants. In fact, the possibility of sexual contact between white mistresses and black servants or slaves was a source of anxiety—and, as we will see in the next section, satirical comment—in this period. 
B1981.25.205
Signed in lower right: "B. Dandridge Pix [?it]"
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection