American Paintings: St. Cecilia, a Portrait (Mrs. Richard Crowninshield Derby) by John Singleton Copley (1803)

St. Cecilia, a Portrait portrays Martha Crowninshield Derby, an American expatriate living in London, as Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

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St. Cecilia, a Portrait portrays Martha Crowninshield Derby, an American expatriate living in London, as Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Surrounded by luxurious furnishings and wearing a fashionable empire-waist dress, Mrs. Derby demonstrates her musical talents by playing a harp – an instrument chosen to echo her graceful figure and emphasize her slender fingers – as she is gazed upon by adoring cherubs. Copley likely created this work in response to earlier versions of women posed as St. Cecilia by his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Measuring 92 by 58 inches, the painting is one of the largest paintings in the American art collection. Currently on display at the Mint Museum of Art on Randolph Road, it will be reinstalled as part of the Museum’s holdings of Colonial and Federal portraiture in the new Mint Museum Uptown, scheduled to open in October 2010.

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