Anonymous Artist, Elizabeth Clarke Freake and Baby Mary, c. 1674, oil on canvas, 42.5” x 36.8”, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Freake Show

Mrs. John Freake, of the Boston Freakes, was a real show-off.  Colonial Americans were suspicious of art, judging it too aristocratic, but they did commission portraits because they were an excellent way to demonstrate wealth, especially if you were Elizabeth Freake.

In the painting, Mrs. Freake, the daughter and wife of wealthy merchants, sits on her rather expensive Turkey work chair that is trimmed with tassels.  (Inventories show that the Freakes had 14 of these chairs named for their resemblance Turkish carpets.)  Fortunately for us (?), we can see the elaborate embroidery on her red underskirt beneath her green taffeta dress that is adorned with black and red bows.  She and her baby wear imported lace caps and collars and Elizabeth has on a triple strand of pearls, a black beaded bracelet and a gold ring.  Pretty little Mary wears a fancy dress possibly of the yellow silk also noted in the family inventory the year after this image was painted.

Mary wasn’t Elizabeth’s only child; Elizabeth gave birth to 13 children.  It’s not certain how many survived into adulthood, but interestingly enough, Mary outlived them all.