Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Preface

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Preface

Article excerpt

THE POWEL HOUSE is A PRECIOUS REMNANT of Philadelphia's eighteenth-century past. Through sometimes hazardous passage, it has arrived in the safe custody of the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.

To qualify as a guide at the Powel House, one must assimilate a considerable body of historical fact and interpretation. Inevitably, however, there are questions thoughtful visitors ask that cannot be easily answered. As an occasional guide at the Powel House, I have faltered more than once in my response when confronted with Matthew Pratt's portrait of Elizabeth Powel. Only in a superficial sense may that portrait and its subject be regarded as revealing.

What follows in these pages is an attempt to unlock the secrets of the painting's composition and subsequent history, while presenting a more extended view of a woman who, when seen in context two centuries ago, continues to merit our attention and respect. Aware that Elizabeth Powel cared lifelong about the image she presented, I would like to think that she might accept this slender volume as sympathetic portraiture-and no less so because it seeks to be revealing. …

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