18th century portrait deemed 'racist and dehumanising'

18th century portrait deemed 'racist and dehumanising'

A Rhodes scholar urged a renowned Oxford college to remove an 18th century portrait because it was 'racist and dehumanising', it is claimed.

Dr Alexander von Klemperer was a PhD student at Oriel College in 2018 when he wrote a paper saying he was 'personally troubled' about the painting of Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort.

The portrait of the duke, who was a descendent of King Henry IV, showed him in the company of a black boy wearing a metal collar who is holding his coronet and was recently removed.

The college has claimed it was removed and sent on loan to the ancestral home of the Duke of Beaufort, Badminton House, while major renovation work takes place in Senior Library where it used to hang from the walls.

However, one source told The Telegraph it was moved 'in case it offended a student' and it comes after Dr von Klemperer raised his objections to the artwork.

Writing to the college picture committee in November 2018, the neuroscience student claimed the portrait, and another artwork showing British diplomat Charles Augustus Murray, had troubling depictions of black people in them.

The Telegraph reports him as saying: 'Whilst both images are products of their time, they are also racist depictions of people of colour as subservient and to some extent dehumanised.

'The way in which portraits and people are represented in a space can deeply alter how comfortable or welcoming that space is to people.

'This is particularly true in this instance, where the legacy of colonialism and slavery can further lead to feelings of alienation by people of colour or of African descent.

He added that Oriel College had an 'imperative to remove' the artworks.

There is debate as to whether the black people in both paintings are real and depict slaves or servants next to their white masters, or are meant to be allegorical.

The painting of the Duke of Beaufort was removed when the college undertook major renovation works in the Senior Library, with the wall on which is once hung being completely repainted.

In the meantime it has been sent on loan to Badminton House, where Somerset's ancestors reside today, with Oriel College insisting it will be brought back and returned to its previous place.

However, one source at the college claimed it was related to the 'Rhodes saga' - which saw protests from activists over statues of Cecil Rhodes, a mining tycoon who led the British territory of Cape Colony in southern Africa before his death in 1902 and whose funds still provides scholarships to students of the college today.

A spokesperson for the college told The Telegraph: 'Due to our extensive renovation of our Senior Library where the Duke of Beaufort's painting is normally hung, we have loaned the painting to Badminton House for safekeeping.'

They added that 'the intention is that the painting will return to the Senior Library'.