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Twists in a family painting

Posted January. 23, 2020 07:31,   

Updated January. 23, 2020 07:31


A well-dressed man and his two children have entered a bedroom. The man’s wife in the bed is reaching her hand out to welcome them while a woman who appears to be a nanny is holding a newborn. Is this a picture of a husband and children celebrating the birth of a new child?

The figures in the painting by 17th-century British painter David des Granges are Sir Richard Saltonstall and his family in the U.K. Red bed hangings and attires, as well as splendor interior details, all represent the family’s wealth and high status. It looks like a scene where the husband and two children are visiting the mother who had just given birth, but it is the opposite. The woman lying in the bed is Saltonstall’s first wife and the mother of the two children on the left. The one sitting in the chair is his second wife holding her son. It isn’t that Saltonstall had two wives under the same roof. It was right after the second wife gave birth when Saltonstall commissioned the painting. The first wife had passed away several years ago, and his painting featuring both the dead and the living was to celebrate the birth of his youngest son and mourn the death of his late wife. Another twist of the painting can be found in the two children on the left. Both of them appear to be girls, but they are actually Saltonstall’s daughter Ann and son Richard, each aged three and seven. According to the custom in which boys wore girls’ clothes until the age of seven or so, Richard is wearing a long dress.

Another important item in the painting is Saltonstall’s white gloves. He is wearing one of the gloves and handing it to his first wife. A white glove signifies both mourning and promise. It must have been his way to promise her that her two children would be well taken care of and inherit Saltonstall’s wealth. The first wife wearing white clothes and white fabric around her head is close to her death, but still holding her hand out to her children, rather than paying attention to the gloves. The last twist is Saltonstall’s gaze. His hand is linked with a child of the first wife, but his gaze is towards his new wife and just-born son. Had he kept the promise he made to his first wife?