She was born in England in 1761 to an African woman, Maria Bell(e), who had previously been enslaved in the Caribbean (Roulston 648). Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, RP-T-1966-16. The portrait of the two women is highly unusual in 18th-century British art for showing a black woman as the equal of her white companion, rather than as a servant or slave. We do not know where or how Maria and Lindsay first met, but during 1760 his ship the HMS Trent, was sailing around the coasts of Senegal and the Caribbean. He worked with Ramsay until the latter died in 1784, at which point Martin moved to Edinburgh and made his name as the premier Scottish portraitist for the next ten years (Grove). Factinate is a fact website that is dedicated to finding and sharing fun facts about science, history, animals, films, people, and much more. There's something about the family structure that encourages secrets. Only very young children wore their hair low and unstyled (Fig. No fashionable adult woman in this decade would be caught without elaborate lace or embroidery-covered engageantes (Fig. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 66.88.1. His specialty lay in three-quarter-length portraits (Fig. In contrast to her early life in the grand environment of Kenwood, Dido’s later life was of a comfortable but middling status. In large, complicated portraits of this kind, every detail is important and symbolic, and it is likely that neither girl had full agency over her wardrobe for this painting. Let’s just…, Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress, These People Got Revenge In The Most Ingenious Ways, Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife, Big Day, Big Problems: These Wedding Disasters Take The Cake, 47 Quirky Facts About Wes Anderson Movies. 16 & 17), Elizabeth’s hair is years out of fashion for the 1770s. Banyans and wrappers like this, which could be worn with or without stays, were inspired by an amalgamation of Asian dress, including Japanese kimono and Indian jama (Doering 29-31). The young woman in figure 20 is sixteen, even younger than Elizabeth was in 1778, and is already wearing a simple fitted-back gown without an apron. 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Martin, Morag. Their poses and expressions have been read as speaking of “sisterhood [and] companionship,” with Dido and Elizabeth on equal ground (Butchart 7:10), but many aspects of this painting actually are in the tradition of servant-and-master portraiture. Source: YouTube. He presided over a number of court cases that examined the legality of the slave trade. Dido spent much of her life at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath in north London. She loves Octavia Butler, Rocky IV, and the TV show Museum Secrets. See Reynolds’ mother-daughter portrait in figure 15; both are depicted the same fashions, Fig. While some rare paintings do feature older children with caps and cropped haircuts, Elizabeth’s hair is styled – just not in the 1778 fashion. 21 - Artist unknown (Polish). Oil on canvas; 122.6 x 99.7 cm (48 1/4 x 39 1/4 in). Dido has finished her outfit with a strand of pearls and pearl earrings, and has fashionable rouged lips and cheeks just like Elizabeth’s. The average age of marriage at this time was in one’s mid-twenties, and indeed, Lady Murray married politician George Finch-Hatton in 1785 when she was twenty-five years old (Olsen 31). 9): Dido is wearing ‘Turkish dress’. “Dido Elizabeth Belle: A Black Girl at Kenwood.”. his portrait of two young women has been variously attributed to German artist Johan Zoffany and British artist Joshua Reynolds; in 2018 it was freshly attributed to Scottish artist David Martin (1737-1798) based on style, sitter gesture, and fabric treatment (Scone Palace). In John Lindsay’s obituary, which confirmed him as Dido’s father, the London Chronicle noted that ‘[her] amiable disposition and accomplishments have gained her the highest respect from all his Lordship’s relations and visitants’. Elizabeth was just a year older than Dido and they would have been close companions. © Copyright 2020 by What stands out most about Dido’s portrayal in this portrait is not her gown, her turban, or even her unusually vivacious air, which is comparable to Viscountess Crosbie’s in figure 8: It is the fact that she and her cousin are not dressed in the same style. In 1765, Sir Lindsay transported his illegitimate daughter from the colonies back to his home in England, though it is unknown if her mother was for, against, or even consulted on this plan. 5 - Nicolas Lancret (French, 1690–1743). 21), so neither her necklace nor Dido’s pearl jewelry is out of place. Oil; 148.6 × 140.3 cm (58.5 × 55.2 in). The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund. Charlotte and Ferdinande von Hochberg, sisters of Hans Heinrich VI, ca. Belle was born in 1761 in the West Indies to Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman, and Sir John Lindsay, an aristocratic naval officer who had taken Maria as a concubine after finding her on a Spanish slave ship. There are lines on the front of her skirt that seem to indicate a separate petticoat, but it is difficult to interpret them, partially because the entire dress is covered in an additional layer of transparent silk. It has been theorized that the two young women were allowed to choose their own clothing for this portrait (Loven 1:50). Another confirmation of her youth appears on her sleeves: compare Elizabeth to Countess Howe in figure 24. We don’t know whether his affection for Dido influenced Lord Mansfield’s opinions on the slave trade. . In one of Justice Murray’s most famous cases, he declared that slavery was “so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it,” yet it was supported. No clan is left untouched, and even families that seem happy and normal on…. Growing up in luxury alongside her cousin Elizabeth, the second woman depicted in the portrait, Belle became an anomaly of her age: a mixed-race aristocrat who moved in some of the highest circles of Georgian society. Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? As the most commanding mistress in the French court, she bettered the lives of many and became a beloved figure…. The family commissioned a painting of Dido and Elizabeth. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Bust length portrait of a lady in a green and gold, 1785. But this is not an unheard-of convention in British portraiture featuring Black servants (Fig. BBC4. As noted above, the 1770s were notable for the sheer height of fashionable hairstyles, as well as frothy trimmings and several new styles of dress like the polonaise and caraco (Tortora 241). It is difficult to say whether she was actually wearing makeup during sittings; the cousins’ red lips and healthy flushes could simply have been idealized by Martin, as was common practice for painters (Martin 27-28). Dido remained at Kenwood without the close companion with whom she had grown up. We want our readers to trust us. A lady wearing a pink turban, Late 1770s. Source: Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd. Joanne Major, All Things Georgian: Dido Elizabeth Belle - New information about her siblings (2018) (accessed 23 September 2020), Paula Byrne, Belle The True Story of Dido Belle  (2014), Dido Belle in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required; accessed 23 September 2020), John Clune Jr. and Margo S. Stringfield, Historic Pensacola (2009). Source: Wikimedia Commons. These were aprons “with a bib extension above the waist” (Cumming 21); the upper portion was pinned on to the gown with straight pins and the lower had ties for the waist. So when we look on Martin’s portrait of Belle alongside her white, wealthy cousin, we are both looking at a woman—with her own loves, joys, and heartaches—and at a system of power in a state of challenge. The answers to these questions require delving into the ugliest parts of British history—but in many ways, Belle was also the beginning of their undoing. In her video “Researching David Martin’s Portrait of Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray,” (2019) Nic Loven describes looking through Martin’s paintings and discovering that Dido’s turban cloth was an idiosyncrasy of Martin’s: “Most interestingly, we observed a textile, or at least surface decoration, that occurs in five portraits. Source: YouTube, Fig. She is currently a Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice Master's student (class of 2021) and researches, writes, and edits material for the Fashion History Timeline. The only jewelry Elizabeth wears is a single strand of pearls looped around her neck twice (Loven 4:40). Slavery was not officially legal in England, but not only were Black people still bought and sold within its bounds, the country was neck-deep in the transatlantic slave trade (English Heritage, Waterfield 129). However, these were certainly not inherent traits; they were borne on the backs of the lower classes and people of color. Belle, by being educated and privileged in her class position but undeniably black, pried apart that supposedly inextricable triad. 8 - Joshua Reynolds (British, 1723-1792). She believes firmly in bringing a working knowledge of garment construction and historical techniques into analyses of historic dress. 17 - Laurent Pécheux (Italian, 1729-1821). In 2019, the team at Crow’s Eye Productions also recreated the gown, this time hiring an additional actress to portray the white sitter in an imitation of the actual portrait (Fig. 1763. The long, tight sleeves are replicated on Lady Elizabeth Stanley in figure 13 and her blue-and-gold scarf is similar to the sash Alice De Lancey wears in figure 14. Unsurprisingly, England’s ruling classes sought to distance themselves from the immoral labor they were extracting from the colonies and elsewhere, even as this labor kept their homes tastefully decorated, their dresses in the latest fashions, and the finest foods on their tables. 23 - George Romney (British, 1734-1802). Mansfield was clearly aware of this and in his will of 1782 he made sure to protect his niece’s rights, clearly stating that Dido was a free woman. Dido’s exact position within Lord Mansfield’s household is unclear, but the evidence suggests that she was brought up as a lady alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray. We now know that Dido was a gentlewoman in her own right and accord her more agency in the creation of this painting (English Heritage), but perhaps that was their goal all along: to create a work depicting equal status, while allowing viewers outside of the family to frame the relationship in a societally-acceptable way. While much has been made of their “presentation more or less as social equals” (Butchart 6:10) and Martin’s predilection for this kind of costume (Loven 3:00), these sitters are not truly being presented in the same way.

dido belle portrait

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