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To historians, the term Creole is a controversial and mystifying segment of African America.


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The term Creole can create some difficulty in determining one's actual race due to the origin of the word and different uses it has to describe race. The earliest recollection of the word creole comes in the early 16th century from Garcilaso de la Vega. In his book, "Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru," Garcilaso de la Vega tells us that the word criollos or criollas was first invented by the Negroes to mean a Negro born in the Indies. Its use was devised to distinguish between Negros born in the Indies compared to those that were born in the New World since the former were held in high honor since they were born in their own country. He later goes on to state that the Spanish copied the term from the Negroes to describe people born in the new world.

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Though little is known about the portrait of this young mixed-race woman, her alluring, unbroken gaze renders her as a subject of much intrigue and speculation. Although this painting greatly differs from countless other portraits of women in the antebellum United States, portraits of women of color were not uncommon in antebellum New Orleans, a fact that makes the unique attributes of this work all the more striking.

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Portraits often provide a window into personal histories within larger social histories. In the eighteenth century, as colonial control over New Orleans changed from French to Spanish, [2] people living as slaves gained more power for social mobility and the ability to buy their freedom. These individuals and their descendants, along with an influx of French-speaking refugees from Saint-Domingue by way of Spanish Cuba, [3] ed for the abundance of free people of color in New Orleans and its surrounding parishes.

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Despite its cosmopolitan feel and substantial population of free people of color, New Orleans simultaneously rooted itself in a cotton and slave-based economy. Portraiture dominated the art scene of the early nineteenth century in both the city and plantation country of southern Louisiana. Citizens used commissioned portraits to clarify their own self-identification to the rest of society. In a similar vein, portraits also ified wealth, and commissioning a portrait reified that wealth through visual representation.

With the early nineteenth century demand for portraiture came the supply of eager painters. Thus many artists—both local painters and artists from abroad—found steady work painting the businessmen, plantation owners, political leaders, their wives and daughters, and well-to-do free people of color, who lived along the Mississippi. All three of these talented European painters traveled to the American South after successful shows in Europe, aiming to capitalize on the booming industry of portraiture in the Mississippi delta.

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Each artist painted with a distinctive style and level of finesse, but all found popularity in New Orleans particularly because they painted in accord with the popular styles in Europe. While his contemporaries explored more gestural painting and realism, Jacques Amans painted consistently in continuation with the style of the works he ly exhibited in The Salon of Paris, utilizing refined neoclassical techniques. His Portrait of Josephine Roman Aimec. The woman poses against a nondescript, dark grey backdrop, wearing a modest long-sleeved ebony-colored dress with a pleated white Chantilly lace collar.

Her light pink tulle bonnet frames her face in a wreath of ruffles. Josephine Roman Aime embodied the wealthy French Creole planter class. According to scholar Judith H. They are, by definition, portraits. The sitter dresses modestly, wearing a simple black gown with a lacey white shawl. Aside from her brown skin, only the tignon she wears—a trademark of free women of color that will be discussed later—ifies her racial status; however, its bright yellow and green striped pattern render it as a beautiful fashion statement, the rich fabric and de complementing her face somewhat like decorative jewelry.

The sitter poses with Pictures of creole women refinement and a strong sense of self as the artist paints her in the same conventional style used for white female sitters. Rather than depicting a suggestively posed, scantily clad, possibly imagined woman, it portrays a real life sitter dressed modestly and posed with a sense of pride and dignity.

Franz Fleischbein, an aforementioned contemporary of Jacques Amans, creates another visual representation of a dignified free woman of color in a tignon in his Portrait of Betsya captivating, thought-provoking image. Did Betsy commission this picture on her own? Two tufts of her espresso-hued, curly hair spill out from the confines of her ornately wrapped, bright yellow tignon. She wears a simple black dress with a ruched white collar. Her pearl and diamond floral broach and matching earrings highlight her soft tan skin and glossy brown eyes.

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The collar ifies modesty and virtue. With this in mind, Fleischbein paints Betsy in a way that is more respectful than exoticized. She wears pious, rich fashions, highlighting her beauty, and Fleischbein paints her in the same manner as he might any white patron.

Betsy, though coy, carries an air of regal refinement. These women do not classify themselves as hyper-sensual objects, but rather as well-to-do, morally upstanding people.

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Though Amans painted scores of conventional portraits of antebellum sitters, [20] his unconventional work, Creole in a Red Headdress figure 1remains the most recognized piece created during his time in pre-Civil War New Orleans. However, the figure sits with her back toward Pictures of creole women audience, as opposed to a typical frontal or slightly turned composition.

As she twists around to stare back at the viewers, her blouse falls suggestively low from her shoulder—a direct opposition to the modest high necklines featured in his Portrait of Josephine Roman Aime. The view of mixed-race women as both exquisitely beautiful and also sexually available or erotic materialized itself through various pieces of art and literature.

In many ways this tignon became a symbol of solidarity and a cultural asset. While her tignon is one of the most visible symbols of her difference from white sitters, Amans portrays the figure in Creole in a Red Headdress as different from other portrait sitters in a multitude of ways—most noticeably her twisting body position, exposed skin, and flirtatious demeanor. This begs the question : can the Creole in a Red Headdress be considered a portrait at all?

By definition portraiture produces a recognizable image deed to capture the physical, and perhaps personality, traits of a specific individual. Portraits are markedly different from typological images. On the one hand, the sitter wears a tignon, which ifies her identity and social status in accordance with the definition of portraiture. On the other hand, rather than facing them head-on, the woman turns around to look back at viewers in a pose and composition atypical of nineteenth century portraiture.

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Her profusion of exposed skin puts emphasis on her body over her personal identity, a ificant characteristic of typological images. Still, other definitive questions remain.

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Does this painting portray her actual likeness, personality, and mood? While the painting depicts certain defining aspects of her identity like her tignon, it cannot be conclusively called a portrait because the sitter is constructed as silent with no sense of personhood. Still, the painting cannot conclusively belong to either category. Perhaps, rather than falling into one classification, Creole in a Red Headdress exists as a unique hybrid of portrait and type that reflects the liminal position of mixed-race women in antebellum society.

Through analyzing images of female sitters created by Jacques Amans and his contemporaries and reconsidering the status of his Creole in a Red Headdress as a portrait within this context, we see a clearer picture of the unique social tensions in New Orleans as they pertained to race and gender. Through the vehicle of portraiture, this study provides an interesting view of the social climate in antebellum New Orleans as Louisiana headed toward secession. New York: Penguin Reference, David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 28 Apr Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 28 Jul Ann Arbor: ProQuest.

Baton Rouge, 9. Wiley on Behalf of the American Anthropological Association.

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Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 11 Jan Jacques G. Amans, Portrait Painter in Louisiana, Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans: Tulane U, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 18 Sept. Donna Byrd, n. Prospect New Orleans — Home.

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This is an excellent essay and discusses some very complex themes in a lucid and and concise manner. As a time period, antebellum New Orleans can be very difficult to discuss without oversimplification, of which this essay is not guilty. I like the way the argument unfolds. It is subtle and has the same kind of delicacy as Women in a Red Headdress.

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I was also impressed by the way in which the images themselves move the piece along, and recommended this essay to a student interested in the subject. Well done, Rebecca! You should be proud of your essay and all the hard work it took to bring it to this point.

The Rise of Portraiture in New Orleans Portraits often provide a window into personal histories within larger social histories. During the 18 th century, Louisiana was a colony of France fromthen a colony of Spain from It became a US territory after the Louisiana Purchase in Most free people of color lived in New Orleans, however a ificant colony of people lived in the Cane River region.

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When Louisiana became an American state inthe French identified as Creole to distinguish themselves from the Americans—hence the formation of the distinctive Vieux Carre French Quarter and the American Sector. However, the term later referred to those born in Louisiana, applying to natives of both French and American descent. This dissatisfied Creoles who were not of African descent but rather American or French natives of Louisiana.

While the term Creole actually encompassed many more people than mixed-race individuals during the antebellum, the definition continues to change, often times in accordance with the northern generalization. Consulted Works: Savage, Kirk. Boucicault, Dion. The Octoroon, Or, Life in Louisiana Hosmer, Hezekiah L. The Octoroon. New York: Follett, Foster, Reply Well done, Rebecca! Leave this field empty.