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Image of ‘Princess Rákóczi’ by Nicolas de Largillierre, probably 1720.

‘Princess Rákóczi’ by Nicolas de Largillierre, probably 1720

This portrait by French artist Nicolas de Largillierre is a portrait of Charlotte Amelia, Princess Rákóczi, and an unknown child servant.

A significant number of paintings of black people show them as servants. They were used as a sign of affluence and luxury, part of the social display of their masters and mistresses (who were almost always white). The power relationship between servant and employer reflected the political and economic relationship between Africa and Europe for many centuries.

Very little is known about Princess Rákóczi, but we do know that her husband, Francis, is still celebrated as a national hero in his native Hungary, because he fought for Hungarian independence from the Austrian Empire. When her husband was imprisoned in the fortress of Wiener Neustadt (south of Vienna) after being caught by an Austrian spy, Princess Rákóczi helped him to escape with the aid of the prison commander.

© The National Gallery, London

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