Maundy Thursday

Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet, 1548-49, Tintoretto (Jacopo Comin). In this version (one of at least six painted by Tintoretto) the disciples are almost buffoonish in their attempts to remove their stockings. Judas is in crimson on the left, isolated from the other disciples. At the top right is a portal through time in which the Last Supper is taking place.
Non-Christians are sometimes surprised to learn that Easter, rather than Christmas, is the most important holiday in the Christian liturgical year. (Easter is really an entire season of the church calendar, rather than a single day.)  
Within the liturgical wing of the church, Lent is a 40-day period of penance and prayer that leads up to Holy Week, which we are in now. Today is Maundy Thursday, which remembers the Last Supper as recorded in the synoptic Gospels.  The services that will be held tonight start the Paschel Triduum, or the church’s commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-50, by Rogier van der Weyden, shows baptism, confirmation and confession on the left and ordination, marriage and last rites on the right. The central panel includes the Eucharist in the background.
The Last Supper having been a Passover meal before the Sabbath, the service is traditionally held at the beginning of Friday as per Jewish tradition, which corresponds to Thursday evening in our western calendar. Its primary component is stripping the altar, but it may also include washing of feet by a priest or bishop and the blessing of Holy Oil.
The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-50, by Rogier van der Weyden, shows the use of chrism, or holy oil, in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation on the left. 
The English word Maundy comes from the opening of the phrase spoken by Jesus to the Apostles after washing their feet at the Last Supper: Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos. (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Local artist

The Tiger, 1929, Charles Livingston Bull, for Barnum and Bailey.
I was trying to locate a show by a friend last week. Google came up with a number of references to her paired with the phrase “local artist.” It’s a funny term, and one I dislike.
There are local movements in art communities (such as the Northern California Tonalists or the Bay Area Figurative Movement) but in general most of us are working within the broader movement of our age. This is particularly true in today’s world, where boundaries are blurred by the internet.
Even worse is the term, “well-known local artist.” It’s amazing how many artists are unknown in their home towns and well-known elsewhere.
Saturday Evening Postcover art, March 6 1918, by Charles Livingston Bull
Consider the wildlife artist Charles Livingston Bull. Born in West Walworth, New York, he demonstrated an aptitude for drawing at a very young age. He enrolled at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) to study drafting, and took a taxidermy apprenticeship at the Ward Museum of Natural History.
Professor Ward sent the young man to the 1893 Chicago World Exposition to design a bird display for the government of Guatemala. His work there garnered him the job of Chief Taxidermist at the National Museum in Washington. Bull took night classes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art for seven years, until he felt ready to pursue a freelance animal illustration career.
Boys’ Life cover art, Apr 1932, by Charles Livingston Bull
He illustrated more than 135 books and numerous articles for magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Collier’s, American Boy, and Country Gentleman. As exquisite as his drawings are, he’s pretty much an unknown here, in his hometown.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Hold the date

The Servant, by little ol’ me, will be in this show.
Sitting in my living room on a cold spring day, Stu Chaitand Jane Bartlett and I were trying to track down the threads that connect us. We have many friends in common, but unless you’ve done a meet-cute, most of us slide into friendships without too much fanfare. After some thinking, Stu and I could be precise: we met in the Ellwanger Garden on a glorious September afternoon to paint en plein air. Stu and Jane met at a mutual friend’s opening. Jane and I no longer even remember, we go so far back.
We’ve all travelled a long way since then: Jane concentrates on contemporary dye-work and clothing design. Stu left realism entirely, working with watercolors on canvas. And I am peripatetic, wandering fromplein air assignments elsewhere to figure work in my own studio.
Why is this one of my favorite pieces of Jane Bartlett’s dyework? Because it is mine!
What links us as artists? All three of us are zealous about craftsmanship. Despite that, all three of us are intentionally loose in our handling, content to find the happy accident that allows a piece to transcend our intentions. Beyond that, we work in highly complementary forms and color palettes.
Vitis, by Stu Chait.
This is all ever so cool, because the three of us are having a three-person show together at RIT-NTIDs Dyer Gallery this July. The opening is tentatively scheduled for July 18. Mark your calendars, and be there or be square.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

How not to buy art

I went on ebay this morning and found you some great masters. Here, a Joan Miró for $75… or was it $90?… dollars. The only difference in buying this from a gallery is the bland assurance of the gallerista that it is genuine. And when you get it back to your brokerage office in Des Moines, it will hardly matter.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article called “How to Buy Warhol, Degas and Renoir on the Cheap.” I hope they were using Sarcastic Font, because it should be read as a story of how to get suckered.
What are people buying when they purchase a smudgy scrap of paper or a print overrun from the hand of a master? Not art, for sure, but bragging rights. And they’re not even particularly good bragging rights. Experts can’t agree about the authenticity of paintings that, if accepted into the artist’s oeuvre, could be worth tens of millions of dollars. Does anyone believe they apply the same level of scholarship to a painter’s grocery list?
And here, a genuine Pablo Picasso. You can tell he really did it because of the bull.
There was a time when it seemed like every gallery in New York had a Joan Miró print for sale at a knockdown price. And yet they were anodyne, unmemorable, and their only selling point was that the collector could say they had a ‘name’ work in their collection.
I once sold a Leonard Baskin print on ebay. I needed the money more than I needed the print. Someone got a far better deal than had he or she bought one of those Mirós. But that buyer knew art and knew the market.
And who would try to forge an Egon Schiele anyway? Just everyone, that’s who.
The buyer who loves art but doesn’t know anything about it should try to learn something about it under the tutelage of good advisors. He shouldn’t be buying putative Old Masters; he should be buying new works that have room to appreciate. And if he isn’t willing to put even that much work into it, he should stick to collecting old LPs and band posters.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

For sale to the highest bidder

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, by Thomas Moran. 1872. Since Moran was paid a cool $10,000 for this painting, his work in Yellowstone was a ‘commercial enterprise.’ Moran’s work led directly to the creation of Yellowstone National Park and an increased awareness of the beauty and fragility of the West. But never mind history and tradition; we can get more dough out of balloon tours.
While the news is filled with stories about Cliven Bundy and an aborted land grab by the BLM, a similar story crossed my radar this week. It’s on a much smaller scale, but it touches me directly. And the root of the problem seems to be the same as that being played out in Nevada: our nation’s resources are for sale to the highest bidder.
Like me, Michael Chesley Johnson teaches plein airworkshops. Last week he was teaching in the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino Forest when he was stopped by a ranger who told him he can’t take his painting workshops onto Forest land without a permit.  Because he charges a fee for his workshops, he is considered a commercial operation. If he continues to flout the requirement, he’ll get a $500 fine.
Michael Chesley Johnson’s painters having a huge impact on the environment.
Michael’s groups are very small—never more than four students at a time. Like most plein airpainters, he’s also a keen environmentalist, and like most plein air teachers, he polices the area in which his students work, enforcing a strict “leave nothing but footprints” policy.
So Michael duly looked into the permit and found that he can’t get one. Why? Because the Red Rock Ranger District has used up all its permits, doling them out on a ten-year basis.
Tower Falls at Yellowstone, by Thomas Moran, 1876. We have national parks in the west in large part because of artists like Moran.
What is the competition that Michael is theoretically displacing? Red Rock Western Jeep Tours was authorized for 10,055 trips, each with multiple passengers.  In contrast, Michael takes about 30 people out each season. Total.
The Park Service recognizes the need for a different kind of permit for people like Michael, but they won’t get around to creating it until 2016 at the earliest.
The field artists who accompanied every important western journey of exploration contributed mightily toward shaping our national ethos.  Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, William Keith and others defined the American West for the 19th century, just as Ansel Adams did for the 20th century. And all of these artists were unabashedly ‘commercial enterprises,’ just as painters are now.

How do we train new plein air artists in that historic tradition? By taking them out into the field, of course.

Another plein air painter in one of Michael Chesley Johnson’s workshops.
I have taught in public parks from the Kit Carson National Forest to Owl’s Head in Maine. The only place I’ve ever bothered to apply for a permit was at Niagara Falls, and that was because it’s crowded. And all they asked of me was a “hold harmless” agreement.
I’ve never been bothered by a ranger—never. But neither had Michael Chesley Johnson, until last week.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The Pope’s Daughter

Lucretia Borgia Reigns in the Vatican in the Absence of Pope Alexander VI, 1908-14, by Frank Cadogan Cowper, recreates a scandalous incident in the life of Lucrezia Borgia. In 1501, she took the place of her father, Pope Alexander VI, at a Vatican meeting.  The artist uses a humble priest kissing Lucrezia’s feet to indict the church’s worldliness.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” 
Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and one of his many mistresses, Giovanna de Candia, contessa dei Cattanei. Very little of what we think we know of her is proven, but her legend has been enduring.
Portrait of a Woman, early 16th century, by Bartolomeo Veneto, is assumed to be a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.
By our standards, Italian Renaissance society was remarkably tolerant, for the Pope openly acknowledged Lucrezia and her siblings. Then again, the Borgias treated the church like their private fiefdom and power base. And as liberal as the Italian Renaissance was about sexual matters, the Borgias stood out as libertines.
Lucrezia was described as having all the attributes of a Renaissance beauty—a long neck, long blond hair, an ethereal carriage. Her father wasn’t averse to horse-trading for her. As the Borgia family’s fortunes rose, one engagement and then another was made and broken, starting when she was 11 years old. She was married at the age of 13, to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Count of Catignola. His usefulness to the Borgias soon ended, however, and the Pope quietly ordered his execution. Lucrezia apparently hadn’t yet grown into her Borgia soul: she warned him and he fled Rome.
Sforza refused a divorce and accused Lucrezia of incest with her brother and father. The Borgias responded by alleging the groom was impotent. They of course held the power, and the marriage was annulled.
Lucrezia was probably pregnant at the time of this annulment—perhaps by her husband, perhaps by the chamberlain in her father’s household. She retired to a convent, and a Borgia child was born that year. Meanwhile, the body of the chamberlain and a maid were found in floating in the Tiber. The child, Giovanni, was presented to society as her half-brother.
Portrait of a Youth, c. 1518, by Dosso Dossi, is also presumed to be a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia. If so, it was painted at the end of her life. It radiates exhaustion and cynicism.
In order to strengthen ties between the Vatican and Naples, Lucrezia, now 18, married Alfonso of Aragon, 17. “”He was the most beautiful youth that I have ever seen in Rome,” wrote a contemporary.  Soon, the twisting ties of Alexander’s allegiences made Alfonso a liability. The young man fled Rome. Lucrezia’s family ordered her to lure him back. They returned to the Vatican, where Lucrezia gave birth to their son. Alfonso was attacked by hired killers on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica; he barely survived this attack only to be strangled in his sickbed.
Two years later Lucrezia was given in marriage to Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. To pull this off, she pretended she was a virgin. Little Rodrigo was left behind and she never saw him again.
Oddly, this last marriage stuck. The couple had several children together and survived the fall of the House of Borgia following Alexander’s death. Both parties took lovers, but Lucrezia died giving birth to her eighth child at age 39, to all outward appearances a virtuous Roman matron of piety and good works.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Seeking a crown

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche, 1833, was painted three hundred years after the death of Lady Jane, but immediately after the July Revolution of 1830, which deposed the last of the Bourbon monarchs. It uses an old British story to speak obliquely about recent events in France. 
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” This week I’m responding to that by writing about great dames in history.
The void left after the death of Edward VI in England became an opportunity for a remarkable series of women to chase after the crown. Intending to keep it out of Catholic hands, young Edward had named his teenaged first cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor.
She was married into a family of power brokers. Her brother-in-law would become Queen Elizabeth’s close companion, confidant and, possibly, lover. Her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, was the principle power broker in her rise and fall.
Lady Jane later wrote that she accepted the crown only with reluctance, and it certainly appears that she was a pawn in a game organized by others. Northumberland moved quickly to consolidate his power, but Mary moved even faster. The Privy Council switched sides, naming Mary the queen and imprisoning Jane and her husband. Northumberland, Lady Jane, and her husband were executed.
Portrait of Mary Tudor by Antonis Mor, 1554. Whatever else you might say about the Tudors, they had fantastic portrait painters working in their courts.
Mary I of England comes down to us with the sobriquet of “Bloody Mary” for her violent suppression of Protestants: she had almost three hundred of them burned alive at the stake. But she should also be remembered as the first successful British female monarch.  She was succeeded by her sister, Elizabeth I, arguably the greatest woman ruler in history.
One more claimant to the English throne deserves mention. Mary, Queen of Scots was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland, and a constant thorn in Elizabeth’s side. She was also a Tudor cousin, and Elizabeth vacillated between wanting to name her as her heir and wanting to kill her.
Portrait of Mary Stuart, 1578-79, by Nicholas Hilliard. The mount was done in the next century; the painting is watercolor on vellum.
Mary was six days old when her father died and she ascended to the Scottish throne. She spent most of her childhood in France. At the age of sixteen she married the Dauphin, who in short order left her widowed.
She returned to Scotland. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Lord Darnley, another aspirant to the English throne. While his scheming character may have attracted her at first, it eventually dawned on Mary that he was a threat to her well-being. Darnley was killed when his home was bombed. The prime suspect, the Earl of Bothwell, married Mary one month after he was acquitted.
It was typical of Mary’s career that she would act impetuously, with disastrous results. Denounced as an adulteress and murderer, she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate the Scottish crown in favor of her infant son.
Mary escaped from prison and raised an army, which was defeated. She fled to England, expecting her cousin Elizabeth to help her regain her throne. Elizabeth promptly parked Mary in the Yorkshire countryside and opened an inquiry into Darnley’s murder. Elizabeth ensured that no verdict was ever reached, and Mary spent several years in sumptuous imprisonment in England.
That didn’t prevent her from plotting against her cousin, however, who remained curiously reluctant to deal with her in the decisive Tudor manner. Finally, in 1587, Mary was tried and convicted of treason. Elizabeth’s Privy Council ordered her swift execution, and her career was at an end.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

A true warrior queen

Zenobia in Chains, 1859, by Harriet Hosmer. The American sculptor Harriet Hosmer portrayed Zenobia twice. This version depicts Zenobia being paraded through Roman in Aurelian’s Triumph. It is impossible to read this statue retrospectively without considering it as a commentary on the dual American questions of the age: women’s rights and abolition. It just figures that when Hosmer showed it in Europe, many questioned whether a woman would have been capable of producing such a monumental work.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” I’m not sure I’d call the collapsing Roman empire a ‘healthy civil society’ but Zenobia is certainly one of its heroines.
In the third century AD, the Roman Empire was coming unglued. Emperors were assassinated, a Persian revolt couldn’t be put down, generals were locked in power struggles, and the frontiers were open to attack. The governor of the eastern provinces chose to deploy his legions to defend his territory rather than fight with other Romans.
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, modeled c. 1859; carved after 1859, by Harriet Hosmer. “I have tried to make her too proud to exhibit passion or emotion of any kind; not subdued, though a prisoner; but calm, grand, and strong within herself,” wrote Hosmer.
In the usual manner, he too was murdered.  His son, Vaballathus, was named rex consul imperator dux Romanorum and corrector totius orientis of the new Palmyrene Empire. That was a mouthful for a child who was barely walking, so the real power behind the throne was his mother Zenobia.
Zenobia was the daughter of a governor of Palmyra. While she claimed she was a descendent of the Ptolomies and Dido, Queen of Carthage, she was more likely a Romanized Syrian with some Egyptian and North African ancestry. She was well-educated and fluent in Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian and Latin. And of course—because she is a queen of legend—she was beautiful. It is probably true that she rode, hunted, fought, and drank like her male officers, or she could not have commanded them in the field.
Who knows how long the Romans might have ignored her had she contented herself with governing Syria and its surrounds? But by 269, Zenobia was on the move. She conquered Egypt and beheaded its Roman prefect. She proclaimed herself Queen of Egypt.
From that to the absurd: the Duchess of Devonshire dressed as Zenobia for her own Jubilee Costume Ball in 1897. Playing dress-up Zenobia has been popular forever, it seems.
Her victory was short-lived. By 273, Rome had reestablished enough equilibrium to challenge Zenobia. The Emperor Auralian arrived in Syria and crushed Zenobia’s army near Antioch. Zenobia and her son were captured along the Euphrades as they fled by camel.
Aurelian took Zenobia and Vaballathus as hostages to Rome, parading Zenobia in golden chains during his Triumph. Nobody knows whether Zenobia was executed or pardoned, for she disappeared from history at this point. Legend says she was married off and lived to bear several daughters.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The Empress Dowager Cixi

A tinted photograph of the Empress Dowager Cixi, Regent of the Qing Dynasty. Her portraits included a painting given to Teddy Roosevelt as well as extensive photographs. 
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” Today we’ll look at the story of a remarkable woman who prospered by being more toxic than her society.
The Empress Dowager Cixi was born in Beijing in 1835, an unimportant daughter of a mid-level bureaucrat. At 16, she was one of sixty girls in a cattle-call to choose consorts for the new Xianfeng  Emperor. Cixi made the cut.
 Concubines of the Xianfeng Emperor fishing at a pond, 19th century. The figure at left is probably Cixi; the one at right is the Empress Ci’an.
Despite the plethora of women in his harem, the Emperor had trouble producing an heir. In 1856, Cixi gave birth to his only surviving son, Zaichun. This propelled her up through the harem ranks so that by the time Zaichun reached his first birthday, she ranked second only to the Empress.
Unusually, Cixi could read and write. This granted her unprecedented access to the Emperor and an informal education in how to govern.
In September 1860, British and French troops attacked Beijing and burned the Emperor’s Old Summer Palace to the ground. The Emperor and his entourage fled Beijing. The Emperor turned to booze and drugs, became ill, and died.
Portrait of Empress Dowager Ci’an (co-regent with Cixi). Since Ci’an was an Empress and Cixi a lowly concubine, Ci’an had precedence, but this was a matter of formality, not fact. Her portrait corresponds with descriptions of her as good-natured and naive. 
An eight-member Regency ruled on behalf of his heir, who was then five years old. Balancing the Regents’ power were the former empress, the Dowager Empress Ci’an, and the former concubine, the Dowager Empress Cixi.
The Dowager Empress Ci’an was good-natured and naïve: the perfect tool for the former concubine. The situation was inherently unstable, and at the correct moment, Cixi staged a coup with the support of a coterie of princes. To demonstrate her compassion, Cixi executed only three of the eight Regents, eschewed torturing them, and refused to execute the ministers’ families.
Ruling from “behind the curtain,” Cixi issued an Imperial Edict on behalf of the young Emperor stating that the two Empresses Dowager were to be the sole decision makers “without interference.”  Her partner being malleable, Cixi had absolute control of the Chinese state by the mid-1860s.
Portrait of Empress Jiashun, Cixi’s daughter-in-law. It is speculated that Cixi poisoned her when she was pregnant with an heir to Cixi’s dead son.
In 1872, the Emperor turned 17 and was married to the Empress Jiashun. The relationship between Cixi and the new Empress was fraught. “I am a principal consort, having been carried through the front gate with pomp and circumstance, as mandated by our ancestors. Empress Dowager Cixi was a concubine, and entered our household through a side gate,” the new Empress said.
Foolish girl. Cixi ordered the couple to separate. The young Emperor—a man of weak intellect and weak character—began to act out his sexual desires in the brothels of Beijing. He contracted syphilis and died at the age of 19. His young pregnant Empress followed him into the grave a few months later, perhaps at Cixi’s hand. They left no heir. After considerable uproar, Cixi’s four-year-old nephew was tapped to become the next Emperor.

The Empress Dowager Ci’an died suddenly in 1881; rumors swirled that Cixi had poisoned Ci’an. Now the sole Regent, Cixi maintained her iron grip on power even after the new Emperor reached his majority and began to reign as the Guangxu Emperor.

As he grew into his role, the Guangxu Emperor began flexing his muscles, initiating a series of modernizing reforms. These particularly displeased Cixi because they would have checked her power. Once more, the Empress Dowager Cixi took over. The Emperor was never formally removed from the throne, but he was a powerless puppet from then on.
The Guangxu Emperor died suddenly on November 14, 1908. The Empress Dowager installed a new child emperor on the throne and promptly keeled over herself. Turns out that the Guangxu Emperor was poisoned; modern forensic testing shows he had arsenic levels 2000 times greater than normal. It appears that, knowing she was dying, the Empress Dowager’s last act was to prevent him from ever taking power in China.

In 1912, the child emperor Puyi abdicated, ending over 2000 years of imperial China and beginning a long period of instability that would result in the Chinese Civil War.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Two Elizabeths

This Bavarian polychrome statue of Elizabeth of Hungary, c. 1520, is so lifelike that she could be the engineer in the next cubicle.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” Today I focus on two Elizabeths.
In popular literature, Elizabeth of Hungary is most known for a miracle of the roses (which is a frequent image in Catholic iconography). She was, however, a real woman who lived a real life of good works.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, c. 1365, by Pietro Nelli, tempera and gold on panel, focuses on her miracle of the roses.
The daughter of King Andrew of Hungary, she was the niece, through her mother, of another saint of the church, Hedwig of Silesia. She was affianced to Louis IV, future Landgrave of Thuringia and taken to that court as a young girl so that she might grow up in the culture in which she would reign. At age 14, she and Louis were married.
She must have been a remarkable 14-year-old. As he traveled to meet his liege responsibilities, she ran his fiefdom. She built a hospital and distributed alms during a period when plague, floods and famine ravaged Thuringia. Rather than resenting his wife’s religiosity, Louis encouraged her distribution of his worldly goods.
In 1227, Louis died in Otranto while en route to join the Sixth Crusade. His brother was appointed regent for their young son, and Elizabeth’s power came to an end. That year she left the castle. Elizabeth lived in the strictest celibacy and self-denial for the remainder of her short life, resolutely resisting all machinations by her family to make her another politically-profitable marriage.
Mother Seton lived too recently to be the subject of great art. (In part, contemporary artists are hampered by having some idea of what she looked like.) Here, from a prayer card.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first US-born saint. Born in 1774, she was the child of affluent, educated, and well-connected New Yorkers. At age 19, she married a wealthy and prominent businessman. The couple belonged to fashionable Trinity Church, where Elizabeth helped found The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children.

In 1802, the family’s fortunes reversed: William Seton declared bankruptcy and sailed for Italy in an attempt to cure his tuberculosis. The trip killed him. It was there that Seton was introduced to Catholicism, to which she converted in 1805.

Impoverished and widowed, Seton tried to start a school for proper young ladies, but her conversion was anathema to the elite of New York. In 1809 Elizabeth took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and accepted the invitation of the Sulpician Fathers to move to Emmitsburg, Maryland. There she founded the Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School for the education of Catholic girls and the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, dedicated to caring for the children of the poor. By 1818, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation. Mother Seton herself died of tuberculosis at the age of 46.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!