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.