Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary, about 1671 and 1674
The woman is colorfully dressed in green, red, yellow, white, and black. The dress is green with white highlights on its many folds of material. The dress fits tightly at the bodice, where two panels meet near the center and are joined by red laces. Another green panel is visible within the narrow V-shaped space between the two panels. The skirt appears to be made in two layers, with fabric from the top skirt gathered at the viewer's right and the hem falling just below the white apron. The green skirts are lifted at the knee to reveal an orange-red underskirt trimmed with a wide yellow-and-white floral design that runs along the bottom edge of the composition at lower left. In addition to the apron, the costume is brightened with a white lace collar and lace-trimmed sleeves. The top portion of the collar is solid, whereas the lower two-thirds of the collar is made up of a delicate foliate pattern. Three clusters of black and red ribbons hang loosely at the bottom edge of the proper left sleeve of the dress. The woman also wears a number of pieces of jewelry. At her neck are three strands of white pearls, which merge into two strands at left. Her proper left thumb is adorned with a simple gold band, and her wrist is decorated with four strands of round, reflective black beads.
Though the long gown covers the legs from view, the child appears to be in a standing position facing slightly to the right. The infant wears a yellow cap elaborated with white lace. A touch of yellow pigment along the top of the forehead suggests that the child has the same color hair as the woman. The child also has dark brown eyes and a light pink complexion with rosy cheeks. The shape and proportions of the infant's face are rounder and fuller than the woman's, and the features are proportionately smaller. The child has a small, round chin that resembles the woman's.
The child holds its proper left hand to the woman's chest, presumably for balance. The right hand is held in front of the body beside the woman's left hand. The infant wears a loosely fitting yellow gown with a white apron that begins at the neck and falls nearly to the bottom of the yellow garment, in contrast with the woman's apron which is worn at the waist. The sleeves of the gown are folded back on the upper arm to reveal the white sleeves of the shift, which are trimmed with lace. The shift sleeves are tied halfway up with a yellow ribbon, creating two billowing forms.
The woman sits in a wooden chair that is upholstered in a black fabric with a yellow, red, and white design. The upholstery is secured to the chair with round-headed brass tacks, which are visible along the bottom edge, just above short tassels that hang down from the back of the chair. Left of the figures a blocklike table is faintly visible. A red drapery forms a swag in the upper left corner. The rest of the background is painted an even tone of dark brown.
On May 28, 1661, Elizabeth Clarke married John Freake (16311675) in Boston.6 John emigrated about 1658 from England and was a successful merchant and attorney who held public office as a juryman and a constable. The Freakes settled in Boston's North End, and between 1662 and 1674 Elizabeth gave birth to eight children.7 John Freake died in an accident in 1675, leaving Elizabeth a substantial fortune.
On September 12, 1677, Elizabeth married Elisha Hutchinson (16411717), a merchant (and later part owner of the salt works in Boston), public official, and military officer.8 Elizabeth's wealth clearly advanced Hutchinson's economic standing in Boston.9 He was a selectman in Boston and was named a councillor beginning with the Massachusetts charter of 1691 and continued in that office until his death.10 He was also chief justice of the inferior court.11 In 1688 Hutchinson traveled to London to express the New England colonists' dissatisfaction with the oppressive rule of Governor Edmund Andros. Like Elizabeth's father, Hutchinson was a captain and later a colonel in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company.12 He led an expedition against the Indians in 1691/2 and was chosen commander of the Castle, the fortification in Boston Harbor, in 1702.13 When Hutchinson died he was buried with Elizabeth and John Freake "in the South burying place, in Mr. Freak's Tomb."14 His portrait (about 167590, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts) was apparently painted by Thomas Smith.15
It is unknown how many of Elizabeth Freake's children lived to maturity, though one of her offspring by John Freake is known to have died in infancy. Between 1678 and 1685 the Hutchinsons had five more children, three of whom reached adulthood.16 Since two of the Hutchinson children were given names that were also held by two Freake children, Mehetable and Clarke, it seems likely that those Freake children had not survived.17 Elizabeth also helped to raise two children born to Hutchinson's first wife, Hannah Hawkins. The Freake-Hutchinson household therefore may have included as many as ten children.
Elizabeth was recognized by her peers as a pious woman. Her father, Thomas Clarke, was a member of the First Church (Puritan) of Dorchester in 1639 and the First Church (Puritan) of Boston in 1640.18 Elizabeth's first husband, John Freake, was a trustee of the Second Church (Puritan) of Boston, and though Elizabeth was not admitted as a member of that church until 1691, it seems likely that the Freakes worshiped there.19 The children born during her marriage to Hutchinson were baptized at the First Church (Puritan) of Boston.20 Records of Elizabeth's social life also suggest that she participated in the religious culture of her times. She and her second husband dined with Governor Simon Bradstreet (16041697), Samuel Sewall (16521730), and other prominent Bostonians, February 24, 1690. After dinner, Sewall noted in his diary, "Mr. Cotton Mather returned Thanks in an excellent manner: Sung part of the Six and fiftieth Psalm, in Mr. Miles Smith's version, Thou knowst how long I have from hometoo the End. Mr. Mather was minded to have that Translation: I set it to the Windsor Tune."21 Sewall also recorded Elizabeth's death and funeral in terms that define her as a woman of faith:
The mourner "Madam Woolcot" was Mary Freake Wolcott, who as an infant was depicted in her mother's portrait nearly forty years before.
Born May 6, 1674, Mary Freake (16741752) was the eighth and youngest child of John and Elizabeth Freake and was apparently named for her paternal grandmother. Just before her twentieth birthday, on May 1, 1694, Mary wed Josiah Wolcott (16581728/9), who was a merchant and selectman in Salem, a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts, and a judge of the inferior court.23 They had nine children, all of whom Mary outlived.24 In 1709 Mary was given two tracts of land of two thousand acres each in central Massachusetts by Thomas Freake (1659/601721), her first cousin, of Hannington, Wiltshire, England.25 Thomas was a member of Parliament on two occasions and had no children of his own.26 The land in Massachusetts was given "in Consideration of the Natural Love and Affection which he has and doth bear unto Mary."27 The gift included "all Woods, Underwoods, pastures, feedings, ways, waters, Streams, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, profits, priviledges, advantages Emoluments, and appurces whatsoever." Her grandson Josiah Wolcott (17331796), eventually settled on that land and inherited the bulk of Mary's estate, including the Freake portraits.
Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary is considered to be the most accomplished and important painting of the late seventeenth century. James Flexner declared it a "masterpiece" but saw it as "an odd canvas whose strengths are its weaknesses. That the painter was unable to represent weight or depth creates the floating quality of a dream."29 Flexner's early appraisal of the Freake painter's limitations has been replaced by the prevailing belief that the linear style reflects a deliberate adaptation of the Elizabethan style rather than a lack of training. When the painting entered the collection of the Worcester Art Museum, curator Louisa Dresser again pronounced it a "masterpiece." She went on to claim, "It is not only the outstanding work of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in this country but is recognized as one of the great American paintings of any period."30 That superlative opinion persists, as stated by Joy Cattanach in New England Begins (1982): "Mrs. Freake and Baby Mary is the most outstanding example of the Elizabethan tradition in painting from seventeenth-century New England. It is the consummate expression of the Freake/Gibbs painter's expertise in handling color and design."31
The dates assigned to the portrait, about 1671 and 1674, are based on the artist's inscriptions and the acceptance of the family tradition that the infant depicted is Mary Freake (16741752). An inscription at bottom right reads "Ano Dom, 167/ Æ TATIS SU Æ 29."32 Though the last digit of the year cannot be read with certainty, the year 1671 is consistent with Elizabeth's stated age of twenty-nine (she was born May 22, 1642). A second inscription at center gives the child's age as "Æ TATIS SU Æ 6 MOTH." Since Mary was born on May 6, 1674, it seems likely that she was added to her mother's portrait in November or early December 1674.33
The entire painting was examined in 1981 prior to the most comprehensive exhibition to date of seventeenth-century American art, including paintings, furniture, metals, ceramics, documents, and print culture. That exhibition took place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. New X-rays were completed at the Worcester Art Museum by conservators Norman Muller and David Findley. Their findings were analyzed and published by Susan Strickler, then Worcester's curator, who reported the later addition of the child and significant changes to Elizabeth Freake's pose and costume (figs. 3 and 4).35 According to Strickler, Elizabeth originally sat with her hands in her lap, perhaps holding a fan, a device used in at least two other portraits by the same artist, Margaret Gibbs (1670, private collection) and Joanna Mason in The Mason Children (1670, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). All of Elizabeth's jewelry was apparently added in the second group of sittings, and her clothing was significantly altered. A collar that extended beyond Elizabeth's shoulders was exchanged for the current one; a pentimento reveals the outline of the original collar on her proper right shoulder. The artist removed a kerchief that draped over the shoulders and hung down to the waist. Stiff, projecting ribbons (perhaps heavily starched) at the sleeves were painted out and replaced with loosely hanging ones. The white sleeves of the shift were originally much fuller, and the sleeves of the original dress were slashed to allow the white fabric to be pulled through on the upper arm. Pigment analysis at the Museum of Fine Arts revealed that the color of the dress had been altered from black to green.36
Elizabeth Freake's clothing embodies her wealth and access to the goods imported from Europe through the growing port of Boston. Her hair is modestly gathered under a lace-trimmed linen or muslin cap, though touches of her reddish-yellow curls may be seen along the edges of the cap.38 Her lace collar was probably made in Holland or Flanders, a point of interest given her husband's financial losses at sea during the third Anglo-Dutch War (16721674).39 White highlights in the folds of her green dress suggest that it is made from a crisp fabric like taffeta or moire silk.40 The conical shape of her torso implies that Elizabeth is wearing a corset, though the red laces at the bodice are probably decorative rather than functional.41 The way the fabric is gathered at the lower right indicates a double skirt over the red petticoat, or underskirt, at bottom left. The yellow-and-white band of foliate ornament on the underskirt complements the swirling patterns of her white lace collar.42
Elizabeth's jewelry was likely added in 1674 to contribute to her updated image as a fashionable and affluent woman. Three strands of pearls or perhaps faux pearls adorn her neck, and a bracelet composed of four strands of black beads variously described as glass, jet, or garnet highlight her proper left wrist.43 Elizabeth also wears a gold ring, apparently signifying her marriage, on her left thumb.44 The wedding ring is placed just left of center in the composition, just as her husband's signet ring (another symbol of the family) appears near the middle of his portrait.
The addition of the child was an even stronger demonstration of Elizabeth Freake's commitment to her Christian duty to her husband and the biblical expectation of the fruitfulness of a marriage. Elizabeth attended several Puritan churches and was recognized by fellow Puritans as a Christian woman. She also amply fulfilled that responsibility by giving birth to thirteen children. The representation of Mary is thus not only a portrait of an individual child but also an emblem of Elizabeth's role as a Puritan wife and mother. Young children were especially vulnerable to death and disease, and even Elizabeth's wealth could not protect her offspring from those dangers. A daughter named Mary is known to have died in her first year in 1662, and as was common practice Elizabeth and John named a subsequent child after her.45 Elizabeth mourned the loss of several other of her children in infancy, including one whose death was recorded by Samuel Sewall: "Heard of the Death of Capt. Hutchinson's Child by Convulsions, and so pass to the Funeral of little Samuel Hutchinson about Six weeks old."46 Early American portraits often served the double purpose of recording the appearance of the living and maintaining a remembrance after death, an especially important function in the case of infants. Ironically, soon after Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary was painted, John Freake's portrait would serve a memorial function.
Like her mother, Mary Freake is dressed in expensive clothes. Her dress and cap are made of bright yellow fabric, perhaps cut from the forty yards of "lemmon coloured silke" valued at seven shillings per yard in her father's probate inventory, which was prepared in 1675.47 Mary's cap, collar, and sleeves are also trimmed with imported lace. The most interesting aspect of Mary's portrait is that she appears to stand, despite the physical impossibility of a six-month-old infant holding herself up. Perhaps Mary was wrapped under her dress in swaddling that bound her legs so that her mother simply needed to balance her on her lap.48
The chair in which Mrs. Freake sits completes the image of a high-style seventeenth-century Anglo-American household. The chair is in the Cromwellian style and probably came from England.49 The chair is upholstered with Turkeywork, named for its resemblance to woven Turkish carpets, and trimmed with red and black tassels. John Freake's inventory is again helpful in demonstrating that the artist was recording a few carefully selected examples of the family's actual belongings. Among the household goods there were "14 Turkie workt chaires" worth a total of five pounds ten shillings.50 Since that amount is not divisible by fourteen, two of the chairs may have been armchairs and the rest side chairs.51 The items immediately preceding the upholstered chairs are "2 Squaire Tables and two side tables" at two pounds.52 Perhaps one of those pieces of furniture is the table faintly visible to the left of Mary under the red drapery.
Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary stands out as one of the most memorable paintings created in colonial America. As an aesthetic and cultural object, its apparent straightforwardness and yet complexity have made it indispensable to art and social historians of seventeenth-century New England. Moreover, it has been characterized as an American primitive; on the other hand, as a sophisticated example of late Elizabethan aesthetics. The painting has been celebrated as a barometer of change in Puritan mores, a timeless "allegory of happy motherhood," and even as the American Madonna.53 Such differences of opinion suggest that the painting will continue to be not only a symbol of growing prosperity in colonial Boston, but also a rich object of study and analysis for future generations of scholars.
2. Boston Records 1881a, 76.
3. Boston Records 1876, 59, and Boston Records 1881a, 99, 108, 113, 118, 134, 143.
4. Roberts, I, 1895, 135, 136, 13839, 221, 484.
5. Thomas Clarke, Will, April 22, 1675, Suffolk County Record Book, vol. 6, 404, record no. 1274.
6. NEHGR 19 (April 1865): 169.
7. Boston Births 1883, 84, 88, 100, 104, 110, 114, 123, 132.
8. NEHGR 19 (January 1865): 16; and Sewall 1973, I, 376.
9. One measure of their relative wealth at the time of their marriage may be found in contemporary tax assessments. John Freake's property tax in 1674 was two pounds five shillings, more than three times the thirteen shillings paid by Hutchinson (Boston Records 1876, 23, 50).
10. NEHGR 1:4 (October 1847): 3001; and Sewall 1973, I, 134, 309, 327, 373, 427, 547, 567, 594. Judy Graham suggested Sewall's diary as a source for biographical information on the Freakes.
11. Boston News-Letter, December 916, 1717.
12. Fairbanks 1982, III, 472.
13. NEHGR 1:4 (October 1847): 299; Sewall 1973, I, 288.
14. Sewall 1973, II, 874.
15. See Fairbanks 1982, III, 47273. There is some uncertainty about the identity of that sitter, but Hutchinson is the most likely identification.
16. NEHGR 19 (January 1865): 16; Boston Births 1883, 145, 149, 155, 161, 167.
17. Boston Births 1883, 100, 114, 149, 161.
18. Dorchester 1891, 4; Roberts 1895, 485.
19. Suffolk County Deeds, VII, 117; Robbins 1852, 256.
20. Boston Births 1883, 140, 145, 147, 149, 150, 155, 161, 167.
21. Sewall 1973, I, 251. For similar dinners and religious meetings including Elizabeth Freake Hutchinson, see ibid., 300, 338.
22. Sewall 1973, II, 704.
23. Boston Gazette, February 1724, 1728/9; Perley, III, 1928, 251, 252; Sewall 1973, I, 318; Wolcott 1999, 1.
24. Wolcott 1999, 1.
25. Josiah Wolcott to David Stoddard, March 28, 1709, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. For Thomas's relationship to Mary, see Freke 1825, 5.
26. Fry 1935, 43.
27. See Suffolk County Deeds, XII, 37879; and XXVI, 58.
28. Craven 1986, 4851.
29. Flexner 1947, 7.
30. Dresser 1964, n.p.
31. Joy Cattanach, in Fairbanks 1982, III, 460.
32. This inscription was not discovered until 1982, when Worcester's conservator Paul Haner examined the painting in anticipation of the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
33. An alternate interpretation of the evidence proposes that the portraits were marriage portraits, painted as early as 1661 and updated in 1671. In that case, the infant would have to be Mehetable Freake (b. 1670), not Mary. By 1709 Mary was the only surviving child of the Freakes, so she would have inherited the family portraits regardless of which child was depicted. The 1661 date seems unlikely, since the earliest known works by this hand are dated 1670, including the three portraits of the Gibbs children, the group portrait of the Mason children, and the portrait of Edward Rawson. Strickler 19811982, 4951, 5254; Fairbanks 1982, III, 458, 462, 463.
34. Burroughs 1936, 11.
35. Strickler 19811982, 5153.
36. Fairbanks 1982, III, 46061.
37. Craven 1986, 39, 4647; Craven 1993, 106.
38. For the materials of the cap, see Morris 1927, 7; Sherman 19901991, 41. For covered hair as a sign of modesty, see Craven 1993, 1078.
39. For the source of her lace, see Morris 1927, 7; Earnshaw 1985, 44; Vincent 1986, 11; Sherman, 19901991, 39.
40. Morris 1927, 7; Craven 1986, 44; Sherman 19901991, 38, 39; Craven 1993, 108.
41. Sherman, 19901991, 39.
42. The underskirt trim has been described as white and gold embroidery in Dresser 1964, n.p.; gold and silver . . . may be a gimp lace, or an embroidery in Earnshaw 1985, 44; gold guipure in Craven 1986, 44; guipure embroidery in gold and silver in Sherman 19901991, 40; and ornate brocade in Craven 1993, 108. In other words, scholars disagree whether the design was an applied band or an embroidered part of the underskirt and whether it was made of textile or precious metal threads. Scholars have also proposed that the underskirt was made of wool, silk, or velvet. Sherman 1990 1991, 4041 (wool or silk); Craven 1986, 44 (velvet).
43. For glass or jet, see Fales 1995, 20; for garnets from South America or India, see Craven 1986, 45; and Craven 1993, 108. The black beads have also been called coral in Morris 1927, 7.
44. Fales 1995, 20.
45. Boston Births 1883, 86.
46. Sewall 1973, III, 87.
47. Probate inventory of the estate of John Freake, 24th day, 7th month, 1675, Suffolk County, miscellaneous docket, vol. 5, 296.
48. Nylander 1985, 67.
49. Kirk 1980, 107879; and Fairbanks 1982, III, 53334.
50. Probate inventory of the estate of John Freake, 24th day, 7th month, 1675, Suffolk County, miscellaneous docket, vol. 5, 295.
51. Kirk 1982, 70.
52. Probate inventory of the estate of John Freake, 24th day, 7th month, 1675, Suffolk County, miscellaneous docket, vol. 5, 295.
53. For the Puritan reading, which is closest to the interpretation offered here, see Craven 1986, 4447, and Craven 1993, 1078; for happy motherhood, see Flexner 1947, 7; and for the Madonna, see Kuh 1969, 4647.