“…give such their true and proper resemblances”

Colonial artists who possessed the requisite skill set were sought by the merchant and professional classes ostensibly for portraiture.  There was very little demand, prior to the Federal Period and later, for landscape, still life, or religious-based imagery.  But there was a consistent expectation on the part of patrons for facial likenesses or resemblances.  Jonathan Richardson, in his book The Theory of Painting (1715), made the following observation of the artisan who attempts to engage the patron for a portrait:  “As his (the portraitist’s) business is chiefly with people of condition, he must think as a gentleman, and a man of sense, or it will be impossible to give such their true and proper resemblances.”  Do you agree with Richardson’s notion that Copley, to capture the likeness of his friend and patron Paul Revere, needed to be a gentleman in his thinking and a man of good reason and bearing in his mind?  Your thoughts?

John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Paul Revere, 1768

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

11 Comments

11 thoughts on ““…give such their true and proper resemblances””

  1. Yes, I do agree with Richardson. Studying your subject from all different angles and perspectives, even stepping into their shoes (figuratively/not literally) will help you become more familiarized if not confident in your work. Take cooking for example. Knowing what seasonings or spices or cooking methods go into a meal, along with discovering which flavors you prefer, will help you to not only appreciate and savor what you’re eating, but to master your technique(s). Some people may not find it important, but quality will always be more important than quantity. I believe this is what Richardson meant in the following observation.

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  2. I think it is somewhat sad that the highest demand for artists in America at that time was for portraiture, and that they were treated like shoe-makers or wood-workers. Their artistic ability was seen as a common skill, and they were treated almost like objects, like a camera! Although it is true that one must think in the way of the sitter to more accurately depict their likeness or their personality, that shouldn’t be the only job of the artist. The artist must also be given creative freedom, although this is a notion that really isn’t though of or bought into at the time.

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  3. Depending on what type of portrait and what the portrait will be used for as well as the person being painted can determine weather or not the painter must be a gentleman in his thinking and a man of good reason and bearing in his mind. I think be able to capture someone’s likeness does not rely on the artist being a “gentleman in his thinking”, there have been many portrait painters that have not been of sound mind. I do agree that it might be easier to capture someone’s likeness if the subject and painter are familiar with one another. I guess ultimately depends on the skill of the artist.

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  4. Definitely agree with what Richardson’s notion of Copley capturing the very essence of his friend Paul Revere. In any case study, you must fully understand your subject, inside and out. In the end, the final project will be fully realized. In this case, we can see that Copley has a keen understanding of how light interacts with objects (reflection, skin tone, and various shades of color) in this particular scene is astounding. He is a master at realism.

    In contrast, I feel that an artist can choose how he/ she wants to interpret their subject. Being able to capture accurately of what a subject is like is purely open to the artist skill and thought process.

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  5. Even though Paul Revere was loyal to the colonies and John Copley loyal to the throne, they were still friends. Their relationship was that of understanding and respect; I think that was the key to capturing a genuine likeness of his patron. Copley had the incredible insight to know how his sitter’s wanted to be presented. Copley knew Revere wanted to be seen as an intelligent, loyal, and talented man and he did his best to convey these attributes through his portrait.

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  6. Yes, I do. When portrait painting is sought out by those in high society, they aren’t just looking for their appearance to be memorialized in paint. They want an idea to be memorialized. They want the idea of their strength and fortitude and determination to be memorialized. A man’s honor is longer-lasting than the man himself. Any painter needs to understand this so that he can display the right virtues in the artwork. Especially for a man like Paul Revere, who helped change the course of history, he needed to be painted with accuracy and foresight. Nowadays he is looked up to as a hero and his appearance needed to be mindful of that.

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  7. Because portraits were something to be demanded of only wealthy people who could afforded the demand or excellence and professionalism was also they must have considered. I personally believe that one doesn’t need to be those things to do a good job at painting but I can see how those things seemed important in colonial America. I believe that men and women of the time believed that to successfully capture their likeness a connection or common ground with the artist was necessary ( this is true) but I believe that they thought this connection had to do more with education, name and societal status. Perhaps they believed that they true likeness would not be captured by someone who wasn’t like them or believed the same things as them.

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  8. I agree and disagree with Richardson’s statement. While I agree with the sentiments of mostly everyone who posted above, I believe there is another aspect to it. I do believe that its is incredibly helpful to understand your subject, inside and out, in order to create a powerful portrait. When you are aware of their thoughts, their ideas, their preferences, their personas, their reputation – I truly believe that comes through in your work. However, I do believe it is possible to create a stunning and effective piece of work without being a gentleman or a man of sense. It is possible to create strong work without having tons of background detail or even 100% sanity. Art is able to be expressed through even the most inopportune circumstances.

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  9. I don’t necessarily believe that you have to be fancy and elite in order to properly portray anyone in a portrait. While it’s true that most people that want them done today are elite, that has no effect on your level of talent. I think that the key requirement to being able to make a successful representation of someone is that you truly know them. Even if it’s just idle chat with the person, a better understanding of who they are is what will help you to create a better visual representation of them. A persons financial standing or class has no effect on their ability to create art.

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  10. Well Yeah I think that he is in the right of displaying his patron in that manor. Everyone at this point has probably had a professional portrait taken, hell at least a selfie. We know completely well that we want to present ourselves in the best way possible. The patron wanted to be depicted as a pensive man, which I assume at the time pointed to intelligence. Why would it be a bad thing to do that, even if false? The self image though sometimes false is what we as humans strive to present first and foremost.

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  11. As Paul Revere was a loyal person to the colonies along with John Copley that was loyal to the throne, both still rest assured were still friends amongst one another. Within their relationship, it had a sense of being comprehendible and respectable where it was basically focusing a prestigious patron. Since Copley already had an eye on how his sitter wanted to be portrayed he already expected that revere wanted to portray himself as a man where his intelligence, loyalty and all his talents all in one look of a portrait.

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