Teaching idea/enquiry: What do portraits from the past tell us about people? There were relatively few people of African descent in England compared to the Americas at the time of the transatlantic slave trade, but numbers were increasing and there may have been 10,000-15,000 people of African and Asian origin living across England in the 18th century. See: Acknowledging the past Background Information.
Pupils should have some sense of the movement of people over time through previous work on invasions and migration.
Suggested teacher led activities (starter)
Discuss what this says about the perception of people of African descent in England at the time.
Suggested pupil activities (main):
- This painting of Dido is unique in British art in the 18th century. It shows a woman of African descent and a European woman as near equals.
- What can we infer from this painting?
- What are the similarities and differences between the two girls?
- Why is Dido pointing to her cheek – could this be to highlight her different skin colour?
Dido was the great-niece of Lord Mansfield and lived at Kenwood House (Mansfield was the judge who ruled enslaved Africans could not be removed from England against their will).
Build up a case study on Dido. See Sites of Memory and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for further information.
Other portraits, particularly of Ignatius Sancho, reflect high status.
A 'mystery' painting in the Royal Albert Museum Exeter, first thought to be of Olaudah Equiano, is now also thought to be of Sancho.
Unlike these few examples most 18th century paintings included black servants to show wealth or even for artistic contrast, as seen in this example at the Walker Art Gallery.
Formulate questions about the lives of ordinary black people in England who were not shown in paintings.
Create a 'gallery' of historic images (web based or printed) representing people of African origin and add a caption to each.
Suggested discussion (plenary)
Debate the question: Did the transatlantic slave trade contribute to racist attitudes in the 18th century?
What are the legacies of this past today (developing citizenship links)?
Research the contribution people of African descent have made in Britain.
Names as well as pictures link the present with the past. Whiteladies Road and Blackboy Hill in Bristol are two names probably incorrectly linked to the slave trade (it is thought they originate from a convent and a pub).
Are there names in your local area that might be linked to the transatlantic slave trade?
All pupils will: recognise that paintings tell us something of the past; know that there are differences in the way in which different people are represented; connect the history of the transatlantic slave trade to ideas about racism.
Most pupils should: be able to draw inferences from images; compare and contrast the representations of Dido and Elizabeth; analyse different image sources and draw conclusions about the status of people shown; identify positive contributions of people of African descent in Britain.
Some pupils could: understand that paintings reflect typical views of African people in England; link the superiority and subordination established during the transatlantic slave trade to the development of racist ideologies.