Llewellyn, Susan. “A Tale of Two Portraits: Motivations Behind Self-Fashioning in Seventeenth- Century Boston Portraiture.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2, no. 39 (2011): 8-28.
Abstracted by Joyce Ingari
Llewellyn challenges and extends the common notion (embraced by many art historians of 17th century portraiture) that looking towards “society-level” factors is the best way to explain differences in the styles and compositions of portraiture. Despite the “society level” similarities in the profession, location, and wealth of both John Freake and Samuel Shrimpton, two wealthy English merchants living in Boston, their portraits remain distinctly separate, indicating personal lives and political ideologies as a third variable. Llewellyn begins by evaluating the portraits separately, noting the “self positioning”, or each man’s manner of dress, pose etc. She describes Freake’s portrait as displaying the expensive yet refined look of a confident man with wealth and family prestige (aiming for a less realistic and more stylized appearance).She relates this image to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, where the Renaissance style and poses almost exactly mirror one another. Llewellyn points out that both the Queen and Freake were Puritans who valued integrity and moral honesty, exemplified by the shadowless Renaissance style which emphasized light as an equivalent to truth. She contrasts this with Shrimpton’s realistic portrayal, gaudy dress and small over-the-shoulder reference to his life’s work as a merchant, implying that he considered himself above his trade.Whereas Freake chose the pure, understated Renaissance style, Shrimpton instead chose the Baroque style to capture more realistic features like his eye bags and double chin (choosing to hide nothing), while also sporting lavish, rich fabrics and expensive accessories. Llewellyn makes a point of noting the historical likelihood that both men would have been aware of both the Renaissance and Baroque and thus consciously decided on one style over the other. She then references the portrait of King Charles II which, like Shrimpton’s, displays lavish silks and accessories while also portraying him realistically in the Baroque style. Llewellyn states that both Shrimpton and the King were political outcasts, Shrimpton because of his lack of noble blood and the King because of his treacherous father. She describes their portraits as devices used to show the world that they attained wealth and prosperity, despite their beginnings: something neither the queen nor Freake needed to prove. By using a personal lens rather than societal when viewing these portraits, Llewellyn is able to more fully understand the vast differences in the portraits of two seemingly similar men.