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Toussaint L'Ouverture

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Toussaint L'Ouverture

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Although there is a large body of visual materials depicting the Haitian revolution, there are no existing portraits drawn from life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the hero of the revolution. The first known representations of Toussaint were included in a book by British admirer Marcus Rainsford, who published An Historical Account of the Black Empire in Hayti in 1805.

Engravings in Rainsford's book were based on his sketches, or, as in the case of Toussaint's portrait, on his oral description: "Every part of his conduct was marked by judgement and benevolence... in person, Toussaint was of a manly form, above the middle stature, with a countenance bold and striking, yet full of the most prepossessing suavity -- terrible to an enemy, but inviting to the objects of his friendship or his love."

Unlike Rainsford, the French considered Toussaint "a villain... this serpent which France has warmed in her bosom," and representations of him by French artists reflected this perspective. In 1832, a new image lithographed by Nicolas Eustache Maurin appeared in Iconographie des contemporains, with a facsimile of Toussaint's signature below. No doubt influenced by three decades of vilification of Toussaint, the portrait's ape-like profile was widely accepted as an authentic likeness, and it became the the most frequently reproduced image of Toussaint.

Image Credit: The Print and Picture Collection, The Free Library of Philadelphia

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Related Entries:
The Haitian Revolution
Douglas Egerton on the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and Jefferson
Julius Scott on John Brown Russworm and the Haitian Revolution

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