Enfilade

New Resource | Colonial Virginia Portraits

Posted in resources by Editor on March 30, 2020

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The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture announces the debut of Colonial Virginia Portraits.

Featuring an interactive database of oil portraits with a documented history in Virginia or of colonial Virginia subjects painted before ca. 1776, the site includes portraits painted in both the colonies and abroad. While most subjects are colonists, there are also records of portraits of family, friends, and officials from England or elsewhere that hung in Virginia homes. It also includes portraits of colonial Virginians that were sent or left abroad. Portraits can be searched or browsed by subject, family name, artist, date, location(s), or attributes. Twenty-eight institutions and several private collections have shared images for the project.

The site represents the scholarship of Janine Yorimoto Boldt. For the initial release of the site, she compiled 500 entries recording over 500 portraits and about 350 individual images. Additional entries will likely be added in the coming months. You can read about some of the work that went into collecting the initial images in this blog post Dr. Boldt wrote for the OI’s Uncommon Sense, “When the Past Still Hangs in the Parlor.”

“Colonial portraits were sites where subjects, patrons, artists, and viewers mediated both individual and community identities,” Dr. Boldt writes. “Based on this assumption, I began systematically gathering evidence of portraits from colonial Virginia. I was particularly interested in portraiture’s function in a colonial plantation society and discovering any regional trends. The resulting database became Colonial Virginia Portraits. Together and individually, the portraits can tell scholars about kinship, gender, race, social status, political ideologies, and cultural exchange because all of these affected representational choices. Spanning 150 years, the portraits are evidence of the development of an American art, culture, and society.”

Janine Boldt is the 2018–2020 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the American Philosophical Society Library and Museum. She is the lead curator for the 2020 exhibition Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist and was co-curator of Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from William & Mary in 2018. Her current book project investigates the political function and development of portraiture in colonial Virginia.

Colonial Virginia Portraits is the latest in a series of digital projects undertaken by the Omohundro Institute thanks to the Lapidus Initiative for Excellence and Innovation in Early American Scholarship, generously funded with a gift from Sid and Ruth Lapidus. Other projects funded by the Lapidus Initiative include the Ben Franklin’s World and Doing History podcasts, both available in Apple Podcasts; the publication of the refreshed Commonplace (in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society); the OI Reader app; and the Georgian Papers Programme (in partnership with William & Mary, King’s College London, and the Royal Collection Trust). Additional projects, including a second version of the OI Reader app, are due later in 2020.

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