The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview
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can identity. In this sense, it represents an escape from politics. Furthermore, the painting celebrates the loving relationship between the Izards, through the series of pairings that include Artemis and Apollo (on the vase); Orestes and Electra (or otherwise Papirius and his mother); the sketch group; the "male" column and "female" drapery; the pair of carved swags on the table, between the satyr heads at the corners, "ornately grotesque and erotic versions of the love that is elsewhere on the canvas expressed as stately fraternal love . . . or filial affection."

The Izards as art connoisseurs and as a loving couple are surrogates for the artist/creator himself and his longing to be reunited with his family. There is also an identity between Copley and his sitters in that both were at odds with the political force -- England -- that interfered seriously with their lives, Izard as a businessman, Copley as a professional artist. The aesthetic success of the picture as a celebration of personal values masks this ideological content. "In a sense, the painting may be Copley's expression of his deeper political hopes," and his confidence that America will be triumphant in the conflict with Great Britain, to become herself a "Mighty Empire," as Copley envisioned the nation's future, going on to reflect that he "shall stand amongst the first of the Artists that shall have led that Country to the Knowledge and cultivation of the fine Arts [which] will one day shine with a luster not inferior to what they have done in Greece and Rome in my native country." 1 The Izard portrait, with its classical references, is an emblem of art, of Copley, and of the rebirth of classical antiquity in the New World "through the leadership of the exiled Copley as he shapes a new world in and through his art."

"Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham," Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, No. 71, 1914, 301.


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