Portrait of a Nurse and a Child

Object Details


Portrait of a Nurse and a Child


Unknown maker, American




about 1850


Daguerreotype, hand-colored


6.2 x 4.8 cm (2 7/16 x 1 7/8 in.)

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The woman's large hand firmly holds the frightened-looking child, a necessary gesture in early photography, when exposure times were usually too long for a child to sit still. The woman looks directly at the camera, asserting her presence as more than merely a prop to hold and control her charge during the exposure.

This daguerreotype was made about thirteen years prior to emancipation, so the woman holding the child was probably a slave. The black female domestic caretaker, commonly referred to as a "mammy," was frequently depicted in early photographic representations. The scarf-wearing black mammy caring for a white child also became a standard, romanticized icon of servitude in post-Civil War America.

Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography (February 28 to June 18, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), February 28 to June 18, 1995
The Art of the Daguerreotype (April 14 to July 12, 1998)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), April 14 to July 12, 1998
In Focus: The Worker (November 3, 2009 to March 21, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), November 3, 2009 to March 21, 2010