Deborah Lyde Brinley: Goddess in Colonial Boston and Margaret Kemble Gage: Sultana of the American Revolution
Carrie Rebora Barratt, Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Saturday two-part illustrated lecture, part 1 of 2
In eighteenth century America, a fine painter offered clients more than just a portrait: he promised pleasing truths and renditions of reality. In other words, artists undertook likenesses not so much for the art of painting but rather as an assignment devoted to the astute depiction of people of a particular time and place. And he understood that, especially when painting women, a portrait would embody vanity, personality, character, occupation, social standing, age, and beauty. Portraits became surrogates for their sitters: this lecture takes a close look at two colonial American women through their portraits.
Deborah Lyde Brinley was a wealthy and socially prominent Bostonian when John Smibert painted her in 1729. Seated in front of a costly and rare-to-Boston fruit laden tree, she holds her swaddled baby son, Francis on her lap. Further correlating the dual aspects of goddess and the Blessed Virgin, she clutches a sprig orange blossom symbolizing both purity and fertility.
Margaret Kemble Gage was a New Jersey born Daughter of Liberty in a politically mixed marriage to Thomas Gage, general and commander of British forces in North America. In 1771, John Singleton Copley, depicts her draped in a bejeweled turban lolling on a masculine looking chair. Her dress and posture equate her with a sultana: exotic and melancholic. Her compelling image conveys her life while alluding to the alleged secret life she led.