"Faces of Empire: Social Discourse of Field Marshal, 1st Baron, Sir Jeffery Amherst's Portraits Created in Life" by Jonathon T. Weber


"Faces of Empire: Social Discourse of Field Marshal, 1st Baron, Sir Jeffery Amherst's Portraits Created in Life" by Jonathon T. Weber

During his life, 1717 to 1797, Lord Amherst was and continues to be a controversial figure for his military exploits which expanded the reach of Britain’s Empire. Historians and his peers have equally criticized these endeavors for decimating Woodland Indian communities and provoking insurrections in America and Europe. In this paper I will explore how this morally complicated individual is identified and remembered in portraiture.

There are dozens of known portraits of Amherst and they have few consistent characteristics, despite being made while he was a living reference. Each portrait exhibits many different features to identify as an archetypical hero, villain, or advocate. These identities will be compared to see how their environment influences their memory when related to representative works of art which manifest these identities.

This study will focus on the formal analysis of three works which will be supplemented with historical research on this period. The first work will be a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1765. This painting is important because it has been the subject of frequent study to have developed its own legacy in Amherst’s memory for his acts of heroism. It is popular for its own merits and provenance and also because of its distinctly politically observant audience of intent. The next object is a humble print by an unknown artist Lord Amherst on Duty made in 1780. This is a very important print because of its uniquely exaggerated features, gore, and social criticism which portrays Amherst as a sadistic villain. An object such as this is mass produced and easily available, making it perfect for an audience of the general public. The final object is a very unusual and rare cameo by Isaac Gosset in 1760. This is an incredibly important object because it depicts Amherst in intricate detail as both a soldier and noble who would act as honorable advocate to his subordinates. Cameos have long been associated with statecraft but they had developed to offer a private viewer an intimate portrait to remember someone they love.

The portraits’ complementary differences in: medium, composition, audience, patronage, and agency present a comprehensive vision of a man who was among the most influential figures in the 18th century yet remains an unknown. This apparent divergence in Amherst’s military portraits suggests a broader insecurity in imperial and colonial life in which an individual’s identity and memory are socially predetermined and beyond their control.

Find out more about Jonathon T. Weber here

  • HAAARCH!!! 2015
  • Undergraduate Work