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John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Lydia Lynde, ca. 1762-64
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Stephen B. Lawrence Fund and through exchange
1976.4

A woman's costume in the first half of the eighteenth century consisted of three main items: a gown, either open or closed; a petticoat under the gown; and a stomacher, a triangular piece of material that was boned and pinned to the bodice. There were numerous variations, one of which is seen in this portrait of Lydia Lynde. Her gown of blue satin is gathered above the elbow and secured with a band of pearls. Copley frequently ornamented his female sitters with pearls and flowers to symbolize refinement, a quality that was essential to the eighteenth-century woman. He was known to use studio props and costumes to enhance his sitters. The gown as depicted was not typical of eighteenth-century dress. The neck ruff and chemise were commonly worn but the overdress may have been added by Copley. The style may have been based on a costume seen by the artist in the many British mezzotints that were available to him and his colleagues. There was also a tradition in English portraiture to depict people dressed in historical costume called "fancy dress." The sheer green overgown, also secured with pearls at the shoulder, may have been an attempt at depicting fancy dress.