Much of Sarah Miriam Peale’s work was done from observation – from life which begs the question: why would Peale depict Mary so very much alive and so mature when she had in fact passed away that year? This essay analyzes Peale’s portrait in relation to period ideas about gender, education, and death to argue that Peale aged and animated Mary in order to represent her as a young patriot. Thereby, the portrait aided her mother Priscilla’s mourning process, but also served as proof that—despite Mary’s premature death—Priscilla had fulfilled her maternal duties. In serving this function for Priscilla, the portrait served it for Sarah Miriam Peale, too. Although Peale had no children of her own, painting young patriots enabled the artist to contribute to the health of the Republic and thereby fulfill her maternal duties as well.
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