Gervace Spencer (1715-1763). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
The 1st English diplomatic relations with the far east started near the end of the 16th-century with Sir Robert Shirley going to Persia in 1599, in order to train the Persian army in the ways of English military warfare. Robert went with his brother Anthony to Persia His brother Anthony was sent to the Safavid Persia from 1 December 1599 to May 1600, with 5,000 horses to train the Persian army according to the rules and customs of the English militia. He was also commanded to reform and retrain the artillery. When Anthony left Persia, he left Robert behind with 14 Englishmen, who remained in Persia for years. Having married Teresia (aka Teresa), a Circassian lady, Robert stayed in Persia until 1608, when Shah Abbas sent him on a diplomatic errand to James I & other European princes from 1609–1615. Robert was employed, as his brother had been, as ambassador to several princes of Christendom, for the purpose of uniting them in a confederacy against the Ottoman Empire. Louis XIV received the first Persian ambassadors to France in 1715.
Double portrait of Robert Shirley and his Circassian wife Teresia, c.1624–1627. He wears the exotic Persian clothes which so impressed his European hosts, whilst she wears a dress but also holds a flintlock pistol & a pocket watch, symbols modern Europe was introducing to Persia. In return, Turkey supplied Europe with exotic goods such as coffee, perfumes, spices, & tea. It also supplied the minds of European gentlemen with fantasies of harems of young women eager to fulfill their every wish.
1714 After Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) Turkish Woman Playing Lute
The ancient look of Ottoman fashion became popular in Europe, when artist Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) journeyed with the French Ambassador to Constantinople. Van Mour depicted relaxed Turkish women draped in robes of ermine covering rich, colorful fabrics. The ambassador, Marquis Charles de Ferriol, later published Vanmour's art without even mentioning the artist's name. The 100 hand-colored prints representing different cultures of the Levant appeared in An Illustration from Recueil de Cent Estampes representant differentes Nations du Levant, a 1712-14 costume book depicting the Ottoman Empire, with Jacques Le Hay and Charles de Ferriol claiming authorship.
1714 After Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) Turkish Woman Playing Zither
1714 After Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) Turkish Woman Smoking
1714 After Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) Wife of Sultan Ahmed III
Jean Ettiene Liotard met Lord Ducannon in Rome in 1735, and followed him to Constantinople 3 years later. He was fascinated by the Orient and began dressing in Turkish clothing which earned him the nickname of "The Turkish Painter."
Jean-Etienne Liotard (Swiss artist, 1702-1789) Portrait of Maria Adelaide of France in Turkish-style Clothes 1753
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) was an English aristocrat & writer. Montagu is today chiefly remembered for her letters, particularly her letters from Turkey, as wife to the British ambassador, which have been described as “the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient.” In 1717, she went to live in Turkey with her husband, the British ambassador to that country, and stayed for 2 years. In the Ottoman Empire, she visited the women in their segregated zenanas, learning Turkish, making friends and learning about Turkish customs. The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions. Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travel writers, as well as for much Orientalist art. Not only was Lady Mary the first European woman to travel in many of the places she visited; she was also the first European woman to witness the private lives of Islamic women, as they were utterly closed to males.
Charles Jervas (Irish Baroque Era painter, ca.1675-1739) Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Charles Jervas (Irish Baroque Era Painter, ca.1675-1739) Portrait of a Lady 1720
Charles Jervas (Irish Baroque Era Painter, ca.1675-1739) Dorothy Lady Townshend 1717
1725 attributed to Jonathan Richardson (1665-1745). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
When Mary Wortley Monatgu's letters were published in America in 1762, the trend for portrait a la turque traveled across the Atlantic with them. The costumes in these paintings, especially the use of elements of the dress in early American paintings, have intrigued me for a while now. This style would evolve from Turquerie in the 18th-century to Orientalism and Japonisme in the 19th-century.
1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mrs. Thomas Gage (Margaret Kemble)
Many portraits of women in 18th-century America depict them in imaginary plain, unstructured gowns which do not reflect contemporary fashion. Components of these portrait costumes seem to intentionally remove the sitter from the immediacy of their own period by including some historical or exotic reference to an earlier culture.
1766-67 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mary Boylston (Mrs. Benjamin Hallowell)
During the 18th century, English colonial gentry were reading Greco Roman classics including Aristotole, Plato, Cicero, Livy, Horace, & Virgil. To enter a college such as Harvard, a young man needed to demonstrate that he could read Latin & Greek extemporaneously. The admiration of many 18th century political philosophers for early Rome, a model for England’s expanding empire, led many to call their period “Augustan” after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.
1766-67 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Sarah Sherburne (Mrs. Woodbury Langdon)
British American gentlemen were reading books on gardening & farming by the ancients, planting quincux beds, & decorating their grounds with statues of Apollo, Diana, Mercury, Mars, Minerva, Paris, Helen, & Venus. They were naming their slaves & chosing nom de plumes from classic Greek & Roman names. Public tea & tavern gardens boasted statues of "Socrates, Cicero, and Cleopatra...and miscellaneous figures from Greek mythology." The classic form was the ideal, the timeless goal to strive for in the Anglo American colonies & new republic.
1774 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Abigail Smith (Mrs. Adam Babcock)
Many of the simple yet fanciful costumes displayed in colonial paintings of women are adaptations of Turkish dress from several sources, including Sir Godfrey Kneller's 1720 portrait of ermine-robed author Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who had traveled to Turkey with her husband. As her colorful life became a topic of conversation & speculation, many other artists including Charles Jervas & John Richardson also painted Lady Mary Montagu in modified Turkish dress.
1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mary Harris (Mrs. Joseph Hooper)
The ancient look of Ottoman fashion became popular in Europe, when artist Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) journeyed with the French Ambassador to Constantinople. Van Mour depicted relaxed Turkish women draped in robes of ermine covering rich, colorful fabrics. The ambassador, Marquis Charles de Ferriol, later published Vanmour's art without even mentioning the artist's name. The 100 hand-colored prints representing different cultures of the Levant appeared in An Illustration from Recueil de Cent Estampes representant differentes Nations du Levant, a 1712-14 costume book depicting the Ottoman Empire, with Jacques Le Hay & Charles de Ferriol claiming authorship.
1766 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) Elizabeth Ross (Mrs. William Tyng)
It is likely that the British American colonial painter & his subject, who chose to adopt some aspects of ancient looking Ottoman costumes, were striving for a classic timelessness. Artists & thinkers turned to what they understood to be the values of classical Greece & Rome, valuing order, harmony, balance, & tradition in art. The props, costumes, & scenery of a portrait declared the values & the attributes by which the subject, and often the painter, wanted to be known.
1774 Attributed to Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Elizabeth Prescott (Mrs. Henry Daggett)
English artist Joshua Reynolds wrote, "He therefore who in his practice of portrait painting wishes to dignify his subject...will not paint her in the modern dress...He takes care that his work shall correspond to those ideas and that imagination which he knows will regulate the judgment of others; and therefore dresses his figure something with the general air of the antique for the sake of dignity, and preserves something of the modern for the sake of likeness...The relish of the antique simplicity corresponds with what we may call the more learned and scientifick prejudice."
1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Portrait of a Lady
Bostonian John Singleton Copley painted his female subjects in both fashion-forward costumes (mostly gleaned from English mezzotints) and in simpler unstructured gowns that reflected classic designs. Those he dressed in classic design seem more thoughtful, relaxed, & reflective than his fashionably dressed sitters. But Copley was fascinated by the latest French & English stayed, hooped, and bustle-padded fashion trends which could not get to the colonies fast enough for Copley. He wrote to expatriate Benjamin West that in order to dress his female subjects in the latest styles, he would have to import the gowns himself from England.
1770s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Charlotte Pepper (Mrs. James Gignilliat)
Unlike Copley, Pennsylvanian Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) who had studied in Italy with Pompeo Batoni & in England with expatriate Benjamin West, had a distrust of the trendy fashionable. In 1770, when his sisters were nearing marrying age, Benbridge wrote his mother from London, this his sisters should, "not refuse a good plain honest Country farmer if such a one should offer himself with tolerable good estate, for one of the town who perhaps may have a better taste for dress, but not more merit, if perhaps as much."
1784 Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rachel Moore (Mrs. William Allston II)
When Benbridge had returned from Europe settling in Charlestown, South Carolina, to make a living painting portraits, he wrote to his sister Betsy in 1773, "Every kind of news here is very dull, the only thing attended to is dress and dissipation, & if I come in for a share of their superfluous Cash, I have no right to find fault with them, as it turns out to my advantage."
1790 Henry Benbridge (743-1812). Mary Boyer (Mrs. Robert Shewell)
In 1785, Benbridge, who loved the simple pleasures of gardening, was still worried about the too fancy dress of his son, Harry, whom Benbridge lovingly called "my little fellow." He wrote to his sister that he felt that his wife was dressing him in "too good things for a boy like him to wair, & likewise too many of them at once; he can't take care of them when he is at play & more common & Strong stuff in my Opinion would answer much better, & not fill his head with foolish notions of dress, which perhaps may be his bane."
1780s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Elizabeth Allston (Mrs. William H. Gibbes)
It is not surprising that Benbridge painted many of his female clients in dignified classical gowns looking serious, thoughtful, & restrained. In an earlier Charleston, Henrietta Johnston had used a simple classic ruffled drape when depicting her female sitters. A few years later, Jeremiah Theus had draped imaginary ermine robes around several of his South Carolina clients. At least one painting attributed to New Englander Ralph Earl refers to the same asthetic. For many of his female subjects, Marylander Charles Willson Peale used some form of simple dress with exotic sashes or shawls as accents to elevate his subjects above the everyday. Even Rhode Islander Gilbert Stuart experimented with loose gowns & ermine wraps, before he fled to Nova Scotia & England.
1752-54 Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774). Mrs. John Dart
1763 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mercy Greenleaf (Mrs. John Scoally)
1765 Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) Anne Livingston (Mrs. John Champneys)
1767 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Rebecca Boylston (later Mrs. Moses Gill)
1769 Artist: John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) Subject: Martha Swett (Mrs. Jeremiah Lee)
1769 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Elizabeth Storer 1726-1788 (Mrs. Isaac Smith)
1769 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Catherine Greene (Mrs. John Greene)
1770 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Sarah Henshaw (Mrs Joseph) 1722-1822
1770-72 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) Mrs. John Stevens (Judith Sargent, later Mr. John Murray)
1770s attributed to Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rebecca Lloyd (Mrs Edward Davies)
Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Margaret Cantey (Mrs. John Peyre)
1770s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Sarah White (Mrs. Isaac Chanler)
1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Frances Tucker (Mrs. John Montresor)
1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mary Philipse (Mrs. Roger Morris)
c 1772 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Abigail Pickman Eppes (Mrs. Sylvester Gardiner)
1772 John Singleton Copley ( 1738-1815). Catherine Hill (Mrs. Joshua Henshaw)
1773 Henry Benridge (1743-1812). Sarah Middleton (Mrs. Charles Coteworth Pinckney)
1773 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Rebecca Boylston (Mrs. Moses Gill)
1775 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Sarah Rivera (Mrs Aaron Lopez) and son Joshua
1776 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Julie Stockton (Mrs. Benjamin Rush)
1780 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mrs. John B. Bayard
1780 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Christian Stelle Banister and son John
1780s Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mrs Robert Morris
1780s Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mrs Frederick Green
1780s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Lady of the Middleton Family
1787 Charles Willson Peale 1741-1827 Mrs. Walter Stewart (Deborah McClenachan) (1763–1823)
1787 Henry Bendridge (1743-1812). The Hartley Family
1788 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mrs Richard Gittings
1789 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Claypoole Peale
Post Script: Some readers asked about these colonial British American women in their ermine robes. Although I posted 2 by Jeremiah Theus online, there are 3 others that I know of right now. Imaginary ermine warms both Mrs. Samuel Prioleau III (owned by United Missouri Bancshares Inc., Kansas City, Missouri) and Mrs. Barnard Elliott II, which I saw at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. Another draped in fur is Mrs. Daniel Heyward which may be at the Heyward-Washington House in Charleston.