Appeal made to return 'black servant' painting to the walls at Warwick Castle, after it was removed for its links to the slave trade

Two local historians claim it would be better on display so the controversial topic can be debated by visitors

Detail of a Black Servant that features in the portrait of Robert Greville. Warwick Castle.
Detail of a Black Servant that features in the portrait of Robert Greville. Warwick Castle.

Calls have been made to return a historical painting featuring a black servant to the walls at Warwick Castle, after its owners temporarily removed it due to its links to the slave trade.

The castle said it is not a case of trying to censor history, but instead be sensitive 'in the light of increased awareness of historical links to the slave trade'.

But two local historians, Aaron Manning and Adam Busiakiewicz, have criticised the removal as a failed opportunity to redisplay and reinterpret the artwork for visitors to the castle.

The empty spot in the chapel corridor of Warwick Castle where the portrait was once hung.

They suggest that the rare painting could be redisplayed more prominently to invite debate on the castle’s links to colonialism and slavery in the past.

In keeping the painting off display they suggest Merlin Entertainments, the current owners of Warwick Castle, are demonstrating a reluctance to address such controversial topics in the current climate.

The seventeenth century portrait shows one of the castle’s former owners Robert Greville (d.1677), 4th Baron Brooke, being attended to by a black servant offering up a silver basket of lemons and oranges.

For decades the painting has been hung in the chapel corridor of the castle but was removed several months ago.

Portrait of Robert Greville, 4th Baron Brooke.

Mr Manning said “This is the only painting in the castle collection that visually represents the Greville family’s colonial interests and investments during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

"I hope the castle are working to redisplay it prominently with new interpretation on the castle’s rich and diverse history.”

Mr Busiakiewicz said “As one of the most popular and significant historic sites in Warwickshire, it seems a terrible shame to deny visitors a chance to see the painting and make up their own minds about the life of this forgotten figure in Warwick Castle’s past.

"Recent history has shown that usually once artworks have been removed from display in the castle, they have often ended up in auction houses waiting to be sold.”

Nick Blofeld, divisional director of Warwick Castle said: "In the light of increased awareness of historical links to the slave trade, earlier this year we decided to conduct a full review into the subject matter portrayed in the painting discussed.

"The painting has been removed from display to allow our archivist to study it in full. The review will allow us to make an informed decision regarding redisplay or otherwise of the painting in due course.

"As a leading heritage attraction, Warwick Castle has always, and continues to be committed to showcasing over 1,100 years of history in an authentic and responsive way."

Both Mr Manning and Mr Busiakiewicz had recently penned an article for the local history website Our Warwickshire examining slavery documents in the Warwick Castle archive.

These documents, now part of the Warwickshire Country Record Office, show that the eighteenth century Earls of Warwick owned plantations and slaves in Tobago. One set of mortgages even list the names of the 53 slaves kept there.

The article also draws attention to a forgotten memoir which details the visit Henry Greville 3 rd Earl of Warwick made to the Slave Market in Constantinople in 1803. This Earl of Warwick, the first of his family to ever witness the effects of slavery first hand, was listed as friendly to the abolitionist cause in the early nineteenth century.