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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Pair of Vases
c. 1852–65, possibly Bohemia (now Czech Republic)

11 3/8 x 8 3/4 x 6 1/8 inches; 11 3/8 x 8 3/4 x 6 1/4 inches


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by Jas A. Gundry  in memory of his mother, Genevieve Lydian Dutton Gundry

Arts of Europe

The 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, intensified an already hot debate over slavery throughout the United States. One of the central stories of the book revolves around the heroic escape of the slave Eliza with her child, as shown in the vase on the left.

Compared to Eliza’s stance against oppression is the image of Tom, a lovable and loyal slave, in the right vase. Tom comes to love and be loved as a friend by the slave owners' daughter, Eva, a sickly young girl who stole the hearts of thousands of readers in the mid-1800s. Tom and Eva’s relationship, seen on the second vase, was built on the negative stereotype of the slave as gentle, obedient, and eternally happy, even while enslaved.

These vases show two different ways that African Americans responded to oppression: Eliza took freedom into her own hands by running away, while Tom carved out the best life possible within slavery. The vases also illustrate one way that white Americans understood and represented slavery. Made in Europe and likely owned by a wealthy white family, these vases display how slavery and anti-slavery images became popular on household goods throughout America and Europe.

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