The Memory of Copley: Afterlives of the American Portrait, 1765-1925


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art and Art History


This project explores the uncannily realistic portraits of colonial America’s preeminent artist, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). By foregrounding the feeling of presence evoked by Copley’s colonial portraits—the impression of life from inert materials—the project examines the visual origins of these secular portraits in Christian icon painting and demonstrates how their “afterlives” became intertwined with religious and vernacular practices in American culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By uncovering connections between colonial art and American nation-building, this project puts forward fresh histories of not only Copley’s artistic identity, but also the sociopolitical and aesthetic ramifications of hyperrealistic portraiture in the United States.