Spotlight on Student Research: Kellie Burris Walton

As part of the M.A. Art History program, students are required to produce two “in-lieu of thesis” papers.  These papers must be at least 35 pages.  Often students go through several drafts of the paper with their adviser, as they work to shape it into a scholarly piece of writing.  In the following weeks the blog will highlight some examples of research being conducted by current students.  This week we’ll be looking at Kellie Burris Walton’s work

Kellie is developing a paper that examines the way in which colonial portraiture during the late seventeenth and early to mid-eighteenth centuries reflected the prescribed gender roles for women of this period.  While the final appearance of a portrait was determined by a number factors including the region where it was created, the social and economic status of the sitter, and the skills of the artist, careful visual analysis of such a work indicates that within the colonies, a woman’s duty as a wife and mother outweighed all others in importance.  In her paper Kellie explains that a survey of these portraits ultimately allows the viewer to construct a model of the proper and fruitful woman, a concept stressed on women of this period, beginning as early as childhood.  To support this assertion, Kellie’s paper examines multiple examples of female portraiture from this time, considering them in conjunction with the British mezzotint sources often consulted by the artists as well as etiquette books of this period outlining the behavior deemed appropriate for these sitters.

Kellie discusses the well-known portrait of Elizabeth Freake and her daughter Mary as a means of setting up a discourse regarding gender roles in the new world (see image  below).   By deconstructing this image Kellie explains that is serves as a reflection of Mrs. Freake’s role as a wife and mother but also as a subscriber to the Calvinist ideology so influential upon Boston’s merchant class.  Kellie expands this discussion of maternal imagery to include the use of fruit as a signifier of a woman’s fecundity, reflecting her success as a wife and mother or, as illustrated by the portrait of the young Jane Clark, advertising this quality to potential suitors.   At times this essay also relies heavily on comparisons between colonial portraiture and British mezzotint sources as a way to emphasize the distinctly colonial aspects of these gender roles.  The consideration of such sources underscores the specific aristocratic values which colonists rejected in favor of a more pragmatic ideology,

not only within the portraits themselves, but also in their daily lives.  Furthermore, the paper examines iconographical elements as well as the physical traits of the sitters, showing how the monarchical imagery of the mezzotints was expurgated to allow for the expression of such colonial ideals.  Ultimately, this paper exposes these portraits as far more than simple depictions of colonial women, demonstrating their role in perpetuating colonial ideals of womanly virtue.

Thanks for sharing your work with us Kellie! Stay tuned for more examples of student research.


Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary, c. 1671-1674, The Freake Limner

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3 thoughts on “Spotlight on Student Research: Kellie Burris Walton

  1. Ms. Walton’s research is quite interesting, although I did wonder about one comment she makes: “The consideration of such sources underscores the specific aristocratic values which colonists rejected in favor of a more pragmatic ideology, not only within the portraits themselves, but also in their daily lives. ”

    Did the colonists “reject” such motifs or rather did they co-opt them? Many of the motifs found in the Freake portrait are found in Tudor portraiture from the mid-sixteenth century. One example that comes to mind is Hans Eworth’s portrait of Mildred Cooke, Lady Burghley c. 1562 (Hatfield House). There Mildred sits in a chair, a bundle of cherries in her proper right hand, a green curtain behind. These kinds of tropes are also found in Netherlandish portraits from the mid-century. And, of course, such motifs are found in the work of Peter Lely and others well into the 17th century.

    Although I realize that the text, above, is a summary of the paper, if she has not done so already Ms. Walton might want to take a look at Harry Berger, Fictions of the Pose: Rembrandt against the Italian Renaissance, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Berger’s discussion of pose and the relationship between artist, sitter, and tropes is quite illuminating.

    Best,
    Hope Walker
    PhD Candidate
    The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

    • Thanks for your all your suggestions. I was not aware of Harry Berger’s book but will definitely get a copy. I’ll also definitely do some digging and see what sort of access the colonial artists may have had to some of the images that you mentioned or possibly the way those images might have influenced the works that they could access (particularly through mezzotints). You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about as I move forward with my paper. Thanks again for all the helpful comments.

      • You might also want to take a look at Bronwen Wilson, ‘The Renaissance Portrait; From Resemblance to Representation,’ in The Renaissance World, Routledge, 2007, Chapter 23.

        Wilson makes the interesting arguement that portraits are constituent of society, not only or just a reflection of it. Although her chapter is a bit early for your work, the concepts she expresses may well be very useful for your arguement, particularly given the artistic themes you are working with in your paper.

        Best,
        Hope Walker

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