The eighteenth century saw the expansion of many empires as European nations claimed new territory in America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Portrait of Mrs. Reid in the Character of a Sultana shows a British actress who appears in the costume of an exotic ruler. Her charade reveals the influx of new fabrics, fashions, consumer goods, and peoples that have come to Britain from conquered territories and as a result of trade with new countries. Similarly, Saint Michael the Archangel reflects the fusion of Spanish art and indigenous culture in the Mexican colonies. How does Portrait of Mrs. Reid in the Character of a Sultana reflect the realities of an expanding British Empire? How does Saint Michael the Archangel show the influence and dissemination of a new culture and religion in the Americas?
Robert Edge Pine (1730–1788) Portrait of Mrs. Reid in the Character of a Sultana
Gift of Robert M. McRae
YOU MAY NOTICE
Mrs. Reid drinks tea, which is a valued import for the British Empire. Also included in the scene is her turbaned African servant, who highlights Mrs. Reid’s wealth and the exotic setting of the painting. Playing a secondary role, the African woman merely blends into the background of the painting.
The image of Saint Michael the Archangel is a traditional subject in Catholic iconography, brought by missionaries to the colonies in New Spain. Although many aspects of Christianity such as angels may have seemed foreign to the indigenous peoples, the incorporation of certain symbols on Michael’s breastplate such as the sun and the moon were actually vestiges of Native American deities.