Mrs John Freake and Baby Mary

Paula Petrik, Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University


Seventeenth-century painters followed the artistic conventions of the day, customarily confining their work to pictures of adults or paired pictures of a husband and wife. The first image shows the later rendering of the portrait, as it appears today, an “updated” portrait painted in 1674; the second depicts a drawing adapted from a radiograph x-ray image, showing Mary Freake in the original version of the portrait painted in 1671. (A radiograph x-ray examination is a technique used by art historians to tease out indistinct details or uncover different renderings of a painting. When researchers prepared the Freake portrait for exhibition, they discovered an earlier version of the likeness of Mary Freake.)

Although the exact identity of the child in the picture remains uncertain, it is clear that Mary Freake already had six children by the time the portrait was first painted in 1671. She became a widow in 1675 when John Freake died in ship explosion in Boston Harbor. The inventory of his possessions at the time of death included, forty yards of ‘lemmon coloured silk’ valued at forty shillings per yard.”

[1] Susan E. Strickler, “Recent Findings on the Freake Portraits,” Worcester Art Museum Journal, Vol. 5 (1981-82), p. 54.

Updated | April 2004