Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Things that Make You Go "Hmmm"

Moses Williams, attributed to Raphaelle Peale

When I first began working at the Library Company more than a decade ago, one of the first Print Department treasures I handled was the silhouette attributed to Raphaelle Peale showing the noted African American silhouettist Moses Williams. Since then I have pulled many items from our silhouette collection, but not until recently have I truly looked at these unique portraits. There are certainly silhouettes of great skill, many from the Peale Museum, included in the hundreds we hold--but then there are some that make you go "hmmm" or "oh, no." 

Silhouettes could enhance physical flaws, not really noticeable until in profile, like the double chin of this possibly unsuspecting woman.

And surely this younger woman was wearing a headpiece when she sat for her portrait, but in silhouette the accessory has morphed into what resembles a grotesque growth.

Other fashionable ladies appear to have an arm or what looks like a plunger protruding from the back of their well-coifed heads. The opposite sex did not always fair better.

Necks and heads seem to merge and the silhouette of this bald fellow brings the image of a sci-fi monster, rather than a gentleman, to the mind's eye. 

Although chuckle-producing on occasion, these less-finessed pieces make me appreciate all the more the skills needed to create the seemingly simple cutout or inked silhouettes in our holdings.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

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