If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:33

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art looking at a set of colonial portraits of a Jewish family from New York it's amazing that it has stayed together there are three different generations depicted the centerpiece of the family and of the portraits is Abigail we also seed her husband Jacob and her father Moses levy which was likely painted after his death to join this suite of portraits five of their nine children are depicted one likely Rika Franks is by herself and then two of the other portraits are two children together usually a boy and a girl although because the boys wore dresses when they were small that also could be their son instead of a daughter so what we have here is a real window onto the very small community of Jewish immigrants in New York City in the early 18th century by 1730 there were only 75 families that identified as Jewish in the very Dutch colony of New York in the early 18th century they would have been in what we consider lower Manhattan in fact we could still visit Moses's grave in the first Jewish cemetery in New York City and they were instrumental in starting in funding the synagogue Jacob is likely the president one of the leaders of that synagogue what we're looking at is a very wealthy merchants family it's really only because these portraits stayed within the family that we can connect them especially Abigail with letters that she wrote to her son in London and begin to fill out the life experience of this early colonial family she was incredibly well-read she was teaching her children the good manners the painting them you music just simply that life of a wealthy family and she talks about entertaining and doing all of the things that would have been required of that level of society and at the same time though when she writes to her son in London she's reminding him to maintain a kosher diet to keep the holidays to observe the Sabbath the portraits we think are painted by Gerard as Dyke ink the first he was part of a family of what we would call limner portraitists in the colonies he would advertise and say come get your likeness done but what he's looking at for inspiration for the composition for the clothing for the background is English mezzo tints so they do resemble British aristocracy this is not lost on the audience's in colonial America who are aligning themselves with that upper echelon the flowers the little lamb the props the birds all of those just carry directly over from the mezzotints Moses and then subsequently Jacob formed really a shipping Empire Jacob was the chief agent to supply the British especially during the French and Indian War with materials and supplies he's also capitalizing on the trade that's going down to the Caribbean and for the sugar plantations we might also guess at enslaved people were also carried on these ships and it's not until a hundred years later that Britain will outlaw slavery in its colonies we can see that her hand gesture that brings us in the direction of the neighbouring portrait of her husband we can assume that these were hung next to one another and Jacob is gesturing toward his wife and if you line up Moses in fact if you put Moses - Abigail's right our left they would all be directing their attention to Abigail in the middle so we can imagine these hanging in a semi-public area of the and that's important because these portraits were meant to convey to people who visited their status their wealth their lineage and that they can afford to have their portraits done you