First portrait: Katherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester by Godrey Kneller. Canvas, Oil.
Second portrait:Artist John Singleton Copley, Neoclassism, Oil, Canvas
  • Analyze each portrait on all levels for the many unspoken "words" they contain. 
  • How would you describe the subjects? How would you interpret the specific details, such as background, garments, lighting, and facial characteristics, found in each image? 
  • Consider the cultural/religious background of the artist as part of the equation. 
  • In your conclusion, state the message you feel the artist/sitter conveys in the portrait and why.

Image (1 of 2)
Image (2 of 2)

Expert Answers

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Formal portraits such as these were very much the style until the nineteenth century when the Impressionists took their canvases en plein air (outdoors) and painted some portraits there.

In the first painting, that of the Countess of Dorchester, by Godrey Kneller, the use of light and shadow is less dramatic than in the second portrait, making the subject more subdued and cordially expressive, perhaps, of a more refined personality. Here the emphasis is on the body and less on the face. Kneller, the top portrait painter of the eighteenth century in England studied under Ferdinand Bol, one of Rembrandt's students. Of course, Rembrandt make great use of a strong light source, and Kneller's portrait exemplifies this technique. In this English portrait, there is also a sophistication to the face of the subject.

John Singleton Copley is considered the greatest American painter of the eighteenth century because his easy naturalism of conception, power of design, delicacy and sureness of handling his medium surpasses the Colonial artists who preceeded him. As a painter in the Neoclassic movement, Copley employs a strictness of tone in this portraiture with sharp disctinctions of light and shadow, as well as using a very classical form to the dress and drapery and pose of the subject, who appears rather inflexible.

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