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Video transcript

we're in the National Gallery in London we are standing in front of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds from 1773 it's lady Coburn and her three eldest sons which makes you think it's going to be some portrait of a society lady very stiff and operate in a dress and three little boys and very fancy outfits but that's not really what we have at all no when you first look at it you pink you see these very fleshy chubby children sort of tumbling all around and holding on to her in the centre so obviously is very much focusing on her as mother absolutely and this is actually a composition borrowed from paintings that have gone before it which are usually allegory scenes of charity and charity is usually shown as a mother because the idea of giving of yourself unto others is usually shown in allegory as a mother with children so this becomes both an allegory of charity which is perhaps a comment on lady Coburn herself as well as being a portrait of her and her children and this is typical of Joshua Reynolds he puts people in the position of a historical figure or someone from a mythical past it's something that he did he compounded these two genres together very much his own personal style and you get a sense of that here because you do see this very costly looking gold orangish robe that straped around her looks like fur line very regal the way it's laid out certainly and then that mirrors this massive amount of red curtain drapery and you can see some brocade patterning details in that drapery up at the top and it's wrapped around a column at the right which hints at this mythological classical ancient Greece and Rome that sort of past a little bit of a visual cue and we have that little bit of landscape pointing it into the background now this could be contemporary landscape of the 1700s also that could be a view of in Rome we don't know where they're setting them here and the other bit of this that connects pretty directly to that idea of mythological allegory is the child who's over on the left side who has this very tender motherly hand around his back holding him on her lap he is pulled directly from an image of Cupid that's a painting goes by the name of the Rokeby Venus which is also in the National Gallery's collection so very directly that's sort of a cupid figure connecting to ideas of Venus and back into that mythological genre that Reynolds really liked to do and something that is unusual of course is that parent won't there be a parent in this picture that parrot was actually Reynolds's pet not necessarily an allegorical addition but it's a pet and the story goes that this was added to this painting to even out the composition and honestly if you imagine it without the parrot that would seem like a weird whole and wonder what the sitters felt about that when they got home Ino unveiled their portrait that oh there's the painters put his youth pet in the corner by this point Joshua Reynolds was quite the so-and-so he was the first president of the Royal Academy the school for painting in London and by this point he was very well established in his career so to have a portrait painted by Reynolds would have been very much a status symbol in and of itself so whether or not they liked the parrot they might not have said anything my favorite part of this painting if you look at the handling of the paint is on the baby that's lying across her knee it's the hair you really get that wispy feeling of baby's hair and it contrasts quite nicely with that sick impasto that he's used on the lace on the cuffs and I do think that's something also that Reynolds was quite well known for is this contrast out of textures I mean look at her cheek or all of the baby flesh almost is so smooth and you don't really see brushstrokes and it feels touchable one and then as you say there are other areas where the paint is very thickly applied and look at the ribbon hanging down from behind her neck and the red velvet as well you can see the brushstrokes on that when you get up close they're definitely very much the presence the painter is there so the painter has both showed you his skill and also blended it quietly into the background