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Portrait of Miss Butterworth of Belfield Hall

John Michael Wright
1650 - 1670

A rare physical documentation representing the changing views of the aristocracy on the subject of slavery.

This portrait depicts a lady with an unnamed black servant pouring water onto her hand. It is thought to be of either Mary or Anne Butterworth of Belfield Hall near Rochdale and is dated to about 1660.

The black servant draws attention to the Butterworths’ wealth and social standing. However, at some point he was painted out of the picture. It was only during conservation work on the painting in 1969 that x-ray techniques revealed his presence. This demonstrates how the use of black servants was a fashion no longer acceptable in England by the end of the 18th century.

Millions of African men, women and children were forcibly taken from Africa by Europeans to the Americas, and a few came to Britain, some willingly and others by force. It is thought that there were 10,000 black people in Britain in the late 1700s.

In the 1600s and 1700s it was fashionable among the British aristocracy to have black servants to indicate wealth, status and refinement.