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Painting Portraits of Colonial Virginia with Janine Yorimoto Boldt

In 1757, Martha Dandridge Custis paid the artist John Wollaston the handsome sum of 56 pistoles for portraits of her, her husband Daniel Parke Custis, and their children, John and Martha. A pistole was a Spanish gold coin commonly used in the colony at the time.

The future Mrs. Martha Washington was among the hundreds of Virginians who had their portraits painted over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They used portraiture to depict their wealth and status among the Virginia aristocracy, communicate ideas about gender, and cement their identities as cultured members of the British Empire.

Many of these portraits survive in museums, historical societies, archives, and even private homes. Many of them have been lost to the ravages of time, and mentioned only in passing in letters, diaries, or other pieces of evidence.

Fortunately, you can now see many of these portraits in one place.

On today’s episode, Dr. Janine Yorimoto Boldt joins me to discuss her new digital project, Colonial Virginia Portraits. Inspired by her dissertation on early American visual culture, and built in collaboration with the Omohundro Institute, Colonial Virginia Portraits is a fascinating way to see our early American past.

About Our Guest:

Janine Yorimoto Boldt is the 2018-2020 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the American Philosophical Society. She is lead curator for the 2020 exhibition, Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist, and was co-curator of Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic. Janine received her PhD in American Studies from William & Mary in 2018. Her current book project investigates the political function and development of portraiture in colonial Virginia.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.