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Yarrow Mamout (Mamadou Yarrow)

Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741–1827) Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (c. 1736–1823)

Yarrow Mamout, a formerly enslaved Muslim man, was reputedly 140 years old in 1819, when Charles Willson Peale painted this portrait for display in his Philadelphia Museum. Despite this miscalculation, the story of eighty-three-year-old Yarrow (c. 1736–1823), a native of Guinea in West Africa who was literate in Arabic, was still remarkable. As Peale noted, Yarrow was "comfortable in his Situation having Bank stock and [he lived] in his own house."

A rare early representation of ethnic and religious diversity in the United States, and an outstanding example of Peale’s late naturalistic style, the picture is distinguished by the direct and sympathetic encounter between the artist and his subject and a skilled rendering of details. Yarrow’s knit cap suggests a kufi, a hat traditionally worn by African Muslim men to assert their religion or African identity, but Peale artfully employed its yellow band to highlight his sitter’s steady gaze with its glint of humor and wisdom.

Seventy-seven years old when he created this portrait, Peale was seeking to record the traits that he believed supported a long life. In his writings and museum displays, Peale celebrated making wise choices to maintain good health and a positive attitude. He perceived Yarrow’s perseverance in the face of racism and enslavement as a model of resourcefulness, industriousness, and sobriety.

Object Details

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