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Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World

Zara Anishanslin
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Portrait of a Woman in Silk
    Book Description:

    Through the story of a portrait of a woman in a silk dress, historian Zara Anishanslin embarks on a fascinating journey, exploring and refining debates about the cultural history of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. While most scholarship on commodities focuses either on labor and production or on consumption and use, Anishanslin unifies both, examining the worlds of four identifiable people who produced, wore, and represented this object: a London weaver, one of early modern Britain's few women silk designers, a Philadelphia merchant's wife, and a New England painter.Blending macro and micro history with nuanced gender analysis, Anishanslin shows how making, buying, and using goods in the British Atlantic created an object-based community that tied its inhabitants together, while also allowing for different views of the Empire. Investigating a range of subjects including self-fashioning, identity, natural history, politics, and trade, Anishanslin makes major contributions both to the study of material culture and to our ongoing conversation about how to write history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-22055-1
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Prologue (pp. 1-4)

    It began with a silkworm. Undulating and munching on mulberry leaves, the tiny pale worm grew fat. It ate, defecated, and molted; molted, defecated, and ate, shedding its skin four times as it grew. Its growth complete, it began to spin. For three days it spun, wrapping itself round in a cocoon, a protective continuous fibrous strand made of its own spit. But this cocoon, meant to protect the pupa inside as it transformed into a moth, did not serve the purpose nature intended. The insect inside never emerged, fully transformed, to beat living wings, mate, and lay eggs of...

  4. Introduction: The Atlantic World in a Portrait (pp. 5-22)

    To pose for the portrait, she spent long hours standing, her body encased in yard upon yard of English silk. The silk had been made across the Atlantic, thousands of miles away. But it was not an unusual sight where she lived, in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Both the woman who wore it, and the painter who gazed at it while he painstakingly copied its pattern and sheen onto the canvas, had seen similar fabrics many times before. In choosing to wear this silk, the woman made a popular fashion choice. The English silk damask that draped over and rustled around her...

    • 1. Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1688–1763 (pp. 25-41)

      Two unmarried sisters, one a widow and one a spinster, moved from York to London at the end of the 1720s. It seemed an unlikely time of life for them to relocate, as both were in their early forties. But they had good reason to do so, and they were hardly alone in their choice. When the sisters arrived in Spitalfields, in London’s East End, it was experiencing a building and population boom. They lived on Princes Street only a short walk from the Spitalfields Market, which had been a local fixture since the 1680s. But their block of newly...

    • 2. The Clergyman’s Daughter with a Designer’s Imagination: British Landscapes, Natural History Networks, and the Artistry of Anna Maria Garthwaite (pp. 42-63)

      When she was a teenage girl, Anna Maria Garthwaite lived in a Grantham rectory over a hundred miles north of London. It is doubtful that she—or anyone else, for that matter—envisioned that a few decades later she would be living in London, designing silk. Even as a teenager, however, this clergyman’s daughter showed artistic promise and a fascination with things botanical. In 1707, she left an early record of her artistic ability in an elaborate paper landscape. Although set in the country, it is a crowded scene. Packed into a space little larger than one foot high and...

    • 3. “An English and Even a Female Hand”: Anglo-French Rivalry and the Gendered Politics of Flowered Silk (pp. 64-80)

      Anna Maria Garthwaite’s townhouse was more than a home. It was also where she designed her patterns and conducted her trade. Of all the houses on her block of Princes Street, hers, a corner house, was one of the best suited for conducting business. Its architectural layout gave it a distinct advantage. At only one room deep it was not that large. But it had two doors. The front door, on Princes Street, opened into a formal stair hall. The other, on the street leading to Christ Church, opened directly into a room separated from the rest of the house...

    • 4. Designing the Botanical Landscape of Empire: “Curious” Plants, “Indian” Textiles, and Colonial Consumers (pp. 81-104)

      Long before they left London to be traded around the Atlantic, Anna Maria Garthwaite’s designs were already a part of that larger world. Like British landscapes and the British Empire itself, Garthwaite’s silk designs were a mélange of the far-flung and the everyday, a blend of the European, African, Asian, and American. First when she copied French designs and then when she perfected the naturalistic English rococo, Garthwaite’s designs showcased a sophisticated European style. One of the hallmarks of such sophistication often involved moving beyond Europe altogether to embrace the exotic influence of China and India. Accordingly, a significant number...

    • 5. Simon Julins, c. 1686/8–1778 (pp. 107-123)

      When, as he often did, master weaver Simon Julins wanted to commission a silk pattern from Anna Maria Garthwaite, he had only a little way to go. Turning left from his front door, he had less than two blocks to travel to Garthwaite’s townhouse.¹ Walking down Booth Street toward Spitalfields Market, he soon crossed Brick Lane onto Princes Street, where Garthwaite lived right before the first intersection, at the corner of Wood Street. His journey, though a mere two blocks, might have taken him quite a bit of time. Given the number of his fellow weavers and the silk merchants...

    • 6. Industry, Idleness, and Protest: The Spitalfields Weaver as Guild Member and Cultural Symbol (pp. 124-139)

      Alongside the silks of Simon Julins, prints by his contemporary and fellow Londoner artist William Hogarth traveled the empire. Both men crafted things that were enormously popular across the Atlantic. English damask was ever a dependable best-seller among silks in colonial markets. Similarly, one of Hogarth’s print series was the best-selling of all British prints in the North American colonies.¹ This print series, in a telling coincidence, happened to be Hogarth’s famous twelve-print moral satire about Spitalfields weavers, first printed in 1747. In this series, which was entitledIndustry and Idleness,Hogarth set the stage with two apprentices sitting at...

    • 7. “Boys and Girls and All”: Male Consumers, Female Producers, and Colonial Sericulture (pp. 140-162)

      As weavers convicted of felonies and the shimmering silk they made sailed west together across the Atlantic, silk also traveled east from America to London. In 1750, one of Anna Maria Garthwaite’s clients, master weaver Daniel Gobbee, testified before the Select Committee of the House of Commons. He was there to implore them to do something about a problem of constant concern to Spitalfields weavers like himself and Simon Julins: a shortage of raw silk. Despite longstanding efforts, the English climate had not proven amenable to the production of raw silk. This was a matter of particular concern as the...

    • 8. Anne Shippen Willing, 1710–1791 (pp. 165-184)

      Joseph Shippen (1679–1741), a Philadelphia father of four, was not pleased that his wife, Abigail (1677–1716), was away visiting her family in the couple’s native town of Boston. Calling her his “most Affectionate Companion” in June 1711 , he wrote, “I much miss thy Company.” Any romance this warmed in Abigail likely cooled slightly as she read on. Joseph went on to note that though he missed her, “yet I can truly Say that it is not upon my owne Acco[un]t.” Rather, it was “for thy dear babes Sake.” Among the less sentimental things that troubled him about...

    • 9. “As I Am an American”: Performing Colonial Merchant Power (pp. 185-197)

      One spring night in 1749, a “handsome assembly” of Philadelphia elites donned their silks and velvets and met in a merchant’s warehouse on the Delaware River. They gathered with the convivial purpose of attending a newly established colonial institution, the Philadelphia Dancing Assembly. The new governor of Pennsylvania, James Hamilton, was to lead the first dance.¹ Things did not go quite as expected, however. The first few ladies Hamilton asked to be his partner snubbed him outright. Richard Peters, who reported the night’s incidents in a letter to London, speculated that the first declined the governor “because he had not...

    • 10. Hanging the Portrait: The Colonial Merchant’s Townhouse (pp. 198-208)

      Charles Willing paid a mere five shillings for the Third Street lot he purchased in 1745 from his wife’s older brother Edward.¹ Not long afterward, the couple began constructing a new townhouse on this lot. In 1746 , the Willings also commissioned new companion portraits of themselves from Robert Feke, who traveled to Philadelphia from Newport, Rhode Island, that year to paint Pennsylvania’s elite. In 1746, the Willings had none of the traditional lifecycle changes to inspire portrait commissions: married since 1730, they had been prosperous for some time, had seven living children—both sons and daughters—and companion portraits...

    • 11. Emulating Colonists: Scandal, Regality, and Sister Portraits (pp. 209-222)

      Anne Shippen Willing’s 1746 portrait furthered its dynastic associations when it was replicated in a portrait of her brother Edward’s second wife, Mary Gray Newland Shippen.¹ Edward Shippen was an important man in colonial Pennsylvania. Among other things, he was mayor of Philadelphia (1744–45) and a member of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) and a number of Philadelphia’s important cultural institutions like the Library Company. He also was a successful merchant who was first apprentice and later business partner of Quaker James Logan. After the death of his first wife, Shippen married...

    • 12. Robert Feke, c. 1707–c. 1751 (pp. 225-240)

      Our portrait of a woman in silk had its final moment of creation when painter Robert Feke dabbed his brush across its canvas to leave the inscription “R Feke Pinx / 1746” just below its subject’s right hand. The presence of his signature was understandable. Feke painted one of his finest works when he portrayed Anne Shippen Willing wearing silk designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite and woven by Simon Julins. He must have been pleased for hers was one of the very few portraits he signed that—or any—year. Such a signature, of course, served as a constant advertisement...

    • 13. The Bermuda Group in Newport: George Berkeley and Feke’s Painterly Craft (pp. 241-253)

      The most in-depth archival source for Robert Feke that survives is all of four sentences long. In 1744, the peripatetic Scot Dr. Alexander Hamilton met Feke in Newport, Rhode Island. He described their meeting in some detail:

      In the afternoon Dr. Moffatt, an old acquaintance and schoolfellow of mine, led me a course thro’ the town. He carried me to see one Feykes, a painter, the most extraordinary genius ever I knew, for he does pictures tolerably well by the force of genius, having never had any teaching. I saw a large table of the Judgment of Hercules copied by...

    • 14. Painting New Eden in New England: Massachusetts Merchants, Milton, and Violent Refinement (pp. 254-278)

      Reverend Henry Caner (1700–1792) was proud of his Anglican congregation’s newly constructed church in Boston, designed by Newport architect Peter Harrison. In 1753, he wrote that this church, King’s Chapel, was “certainly the most noble building ever attempted in English America.”¹ Among the men integral to the construction of this “noble building” was the treasurer of its Building Committee and one of Harrison’s supporters, Boston merchant Charles Apthorp (1698–1758). One of New England’s wealthiest colonists, he was also a man of faithful religious practice. Apthorp—like Caner—was among the American colonists who shared George Berkeley’s fervor for...

    • 15. “’Tis Said the Arts Delight to Travel Westward”: Newport Merchants, Redwood Library, and the Rise of Arts and Learning (pp. 279-294)

      Apart from his signature, no writing by Robert Feke survives. In contrast to this archival void, his paintings show his fluency in print culture and habit of using books to practice his craft. Feke’s work lends truth to an assertion in popular circulation at the time, the idea that, as famed English author John Dryden put it, “theArt of Paintinghas a wonderful Affinity with that of Poetry.”¹ Feke’s paintings of the Apthorps,Pamela,andThe Judgment of Herculeswere not the only ones to reference print culture. His portraits also chronicled people who were instrumental participants in transatlantic...

    • 16. 1763: Unraveling Empire (pp. 297-309)

      Anna Maria Garthwaite’s life ended the same year as the last great imperial war France and Britain fought in North America. In 1763 , Garthwaite died in London, and across the English Channel, the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War. This was also the peak year for exports of Spitalfields silk to the North American colonies, and a year Simon Julins—still a savvy businessman at seventy-seven—advertised his services as a specialist in weaving damask. No doubt silks woven in Julins’s shop were among those that crossed the Atlantic from London in that record year of export....

  10. Coda: 1791 (pp. 310-312)

    Anne Shippen Willing died in 1791, the last survivor of the transatlantic network of four who created her 1746 portrait. The same year Willing died, Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s 1753 silk had a rebirth of sorts. The complete biography of Pinckney’s 1753 silk encapsulates the political meaning of silk as it moved around the Atlantic World. From the fingers of the enslaved children who fed the silkworms and the enslaved women who spun and reeled the silk in South Carolina, Pinckney’s silk traveled across the Atlantic to Spitalfields in the 1750s. There the hands of weavers like Simon Julins fashioned these...

  11. Note on Sources and Methodology (pp. 313-318)
  12. Notes (pp. 319-402)
  13. Acknowledgments (pp. 403-410)
  14. Index (pp. 411-421)