Tuesday, May 22, 2018

17C Colonial American Children portrayed on Checkered Board Tile Floors

 1670 American Artist Portrait of Alice Mason, by an unknown artist, C. 1670.The round collar of the pinafore identifies her as female.

These are early portraits of children in Boston.  These paintings are remarkable; simply because they were was painted in 1670, just 50 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on the coast of Massachusetts.  Here the artist has chosen to depict these children from Boston in a safe interior space defined simply by a black-and-white or monochromatic checkerboard floor sometimes with just a hint of decorative drapery in one of the upper corners.
 1670 The Freake Limner (American Colonial Era Painter, active 1670-c 1680) Henry Gibbs of Boston holding a bird.

Checkered floors were popular in colonial America, but these were probably not the traditional European tiled floors  The checkerboad pattern might have been painted directly on the wooden floorboards or on a canvas floor cloth.  Such attention to floor patterns would have appreared primarily in the homes of the affluent.  As late as 1800, Lyman Beecher noted that his wife introduced the 1st painted floor cloth (which she made herself) to East Hampton, Long Island, where all the other houses "had sanded floors, some of them worn through."  Beecher was referring to the practice of spreading sand on floorboards which could be sweep & refreshed as needed.
 1670 The Freake Limner (American Colonial Era Painter, active 1670-c 1680) Margaret Gibbs of Boston holding a fan.

Like the paintings of children in 17C Europe, the artist depicts these children looking far older than their years, but their exact ages are inscribed next to their heads. Here the children are little adults, unusually proportioned with stiff, erect postures.  Worried that children might become wild or immoral if not disciplined by strict religious & cultural rules, the Puritans of early New England assigned as many household & garden duties as possible to children & filled the children's remaining time with religious & educational activities.
 1670 The Freake Limner (American Colonial Era Painter, active 1670-c 1680) Robert Gibbs here holding the manly symbol of gloves.

The clothing in these American portraits is simple. Early Massachusetts law stated that only the very wealthy could display extravagant clothing, which could only be worn by members of households whose income exceeded 200 pounds per year.  Yet even the well-to-do, influenced by New England's predominantly Puritan & Quaker ethics of the time, often frowned upon overly fancy clothes as vain & impious. It was common for wealthy people to wear simple clothes made of expensive fabric.