History Matters series: More Than a Likeness

portrait of Increase Mather (1688) by Joan van der Spriet
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Speaker: Linda Johnson

The Portrait of Increase Mather

As concrete manifestations of Puritan culture, portraits express intangible ideas, shaping personal identities and reinforcing cultural hierarchies. Early American portraits reflect doctrinal changes paralleling the evolution of Puritan orthodoxy away from a strict Calvinist doctrine to a democratic theology in a time of changing religious and scientific ideas. More than any other, the portrait of Increase Mather demonstrates this connection.

Painted in England while he was crusading to reinstall the Massachusetts Charter, it is steeped in irony, rich in classical motifs, Scripture, and costume choices. Mather, whose likeness was reproduced more than any other image for his time, viewed the charter's revocation as a judgment from God on New England's failed mission. Johnson claims that his portrait demonstrates an eschatological urgency, which supports the religious leader's willingness to negotiate and his optimistic view of the Parousia. It reflects of the divisions in Puritan society regarding the revocation of the charter at the end of the seventeenth century as it yields information about the declension in Puritan orthodoxy, the Puritan contemplative life, and the transition to secular values.

Linda Johnson is an Independent Scholar who holds a Ph.D in American Studies from Michigan State University. Her dissertation Spiritual Autobiography in Puritan Portraiture encompassed the interdisciplinary fields of American Art, Religion, and Material Culture. She coordinated the upcoming exhibition Art and American Dance as well as co-curated the re-installation of the Colonial American Silver collection in the American galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Her recent article "The Divine Sarah" in the Stained Glass Quarterly explores the relationship between the visual arts and religious cultural history. Interested in New England Puritanism and how Puritan doctrine may take visual form in the arts, Dr. Johnson has written several essays on the renowned Puritan ministers Increase Mather and John Lowell.

She may be contacted at lmjohnson1722@gmail.com.


Wednesday, June 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

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original portrait of "The Rev. Increase Mather" (1688) by Joan van der Spriet owned by the University of Virginia, photograph via Wikimedia Commons

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