Framed plaquette with a wax figure of a crouching slave in chains appealing to Britannia, "Britannia set me free" lettered above the slave, with ship in background.

WEDGWOOD Josiah after. (1830].)


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Oval, measuring 160 x 155 with frame, interior measures 90 x 90 mm. Painted on ceramic or ivory, gilt mount, in contemporary turned wooden frame behind a concave glass with painted white designs that frame the image. Original glue visible under figure of enslaved person, cracked in spots, left foot chipped with minor loss to front of foot, some light chipping to paint under glass but overall in good condition. [Great Britain: cir. 

The image adapts the iconic design of the crouching figure with the motto "Am I not a man and a brother" first produced as a jasperware medallion by Wedgewood in 1787-88. The image had an immediate impact - women wore the medallions as necklaces or transformed them into bracelets, pins, or brooches to identify themselves with the abolitionist cause. The image also appeared on the title-page of works written in support of the abolitionist cause.

After Wilberforce's Bill to abolish the slave trade finally passed in 1807, activists turned their attention to the abolition of slavery and the image of the of the enchained, crouching slave was adapted for a new use.

Now the image came to symbolise slavery generally and in the framed plaquette, the crouching slave implores Britannia, a personification of the British nation, to set him free. The ship in the background may be a slave ship, and if so would allude to the earlier triumph of the campaign to abolish the slave trade and hint that a similar result awaits the anti-slavery campaign.

In the sky between the motto "BRITANNIA SET ME FREE" and standing Britannia, is the ever-open-eye, which symbolises the omniscience of God. The symbol reminds the viewer that God knows of all the injustices perpetrated by man and subtly suggests that the viewer is complicit in the injustice if he or she doesn't act against it.

There are a number of different versions of this wall plaque. In one the frame is alabaster rather than wood - see the example residing at the Hull Museum [accession number KINCM: 2006.3747]. In others the visual layout of the scene is slightly different i.e. in one the figure has a white loincloth and the motto is more circular.

The wall plaques were produced up until parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833.

Stock Code: 58820

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