Colonial images of American people were in most instances colored by a racist bent which is evident in the paintings of the time. The white painters held a certain perspective and attitude towards African-Americans, and this was reflected in their paintings. The African- American painters, on the other hand, sought to counter this by painting themselves from their own perspective. In the picture, the perspective of the two races with regards to the identity of African—Americans is quite evident. In the image by Phillis Wheatley, Scipio Moorhead depicts the African-American as an intellectual by painting a picture of the African-American holding a pen and a slate and being deep in thought.
The African American is thus cast as a person that is at par intellectually with the white race.
The Portrait of Charles Calvert, on the other hand, is in deep contrast to the portrait of Wheatley The portrait of Charles Calvert is painted by Hesselius, a white artist. This has therefore brought to the fore the white attitudes and prejudices towards African-Americans.
The African American is depicted being a servant, a person lower than the white superior race. This is clearly shown by the servant kneeling down and looking up to the white man. The artist has also used light complexion to a great degree to bring out his prejudices, bias, and perspective toward African-Americans. The African-American is decidedly painted very dark in order to contrast him with the supposedly very light white man. The white man is also placed in a decidedly lighter background hence being given more prominence than the African American.
These two pictures thus offer a very different representation of African Americans.
The painting of the African-American by an African-American is particularly bent towards depicting the equality of the African-American in terms of both intellect and status. The portrait of the African American by a white man on the other hand is intended to portray the inferiority of the African-American both intellectually and racially. The two images are thus a representation of the differences in attitudes towards African-Americans according to the white and African-American perspectives. Closterman’s painting, on the other hand, can be seen as an example of counter-racism. The painting depicts a young black boy with a parrot, and portrays him in a dignified and noble manner. The boy’s clothing and posture suggest that he is not a slave, but rather a free individual with agency and autonomy.
At the same time, Closterman’s painting can also be seen as perpetuating certain stereotypes and prejudices about black individuals. The fact that the boy is holding a parrot, for example, could be interpreted as a reference to the idea of the “noble savage,” a romanticized notion of non-European peoples as inherently exotic and primitive. Overall, Wheatley’s poem and Closterman’s painting reflect on the themes of racism and counter racism in different ways. While Wheatley emphasizes the power of imagination to transcend the limitations of race and social status, Closterman’s painting portrays a black individual in a dignified and noble manner, albeit one that can be seen as perpetuating certain stereotypes and prejudices.