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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants

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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants

attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour
oil on canvas, circa 1717
27 1/4 in. x 35 3/4 in. (693 mm x 909 mm)
Purchased, 1958
Primary Collection
NPG 3924

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This portraitback to top

This portrait was painted in Constantinople, which can be seen in the background. Lady Mary is shown in Turkish dress with her son and two attendants, one playing the Turkish lute, the other perhaps holding a letter. The country and its people fascinated her; her letters home cover a huge range of topics. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 34 Read entry

    Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) was a dazzling figure of the Augustan age, an aristocrat, traveller, letter-writer and poet. With no formal education, she nonetheless read widely from her father’s library and even taught herself Latin. A peer’s daughter, said to be a great beauty, she eloped in 1712 with Edward Wortley Montagu; when he became ambassador to Turkey in 1716, she joined him there, dispatching letters home. These Turkish Embassy Letters (1763) drew acclaim from the great writer-philosopher Voltaire, esteemed historian Edward Gibbon and others, praising her wit, intellect and culture. They are also notable for her feminist stance. Lady Mary was one of the first female political journalists, too, producing, among other works, a periodical, The Nonsense of Common Sense, that backed Robert Walpole’s government. Known not only for her sparkling intellect and connections (with Alexander Pope and his circle, for instance), she also introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, despite opposition from the medical establishment.

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  • Birkett, Dea; Morris, Jan (foreword), Off the Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers, 2004 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 7 July to 31 October 2004), p. 47
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 31 Read entry

    Painted in Constantinople (Istanbul), where Lady Mary had her son inoculated against the smallpox that had so badly disfigured her face. She introduced the practice into England in 1718.

  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 341
  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 188
  • Pointon, Marcia, Hanging the head : portraiture and social formation in eighteenth-¿century England, 1993, p. 157 number 188
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 719

Placesback to top

  • Place made and portrayed: Turkey (Constantinople, Istanbul)

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Events of 1717back to top

Current affairs

Count Carl Gyllenborg, the Swedish ambassador, is arrested in London and imprisoned over a plot to assist the Pretender James Stuart.
Bangorian controversy; a theological argument within the Church of England is initiated by the posthumous publication of a treatise written by George Hicks, Bishop of Thetford.
First Freemason's Grand Lodge is founded in London.

Art and science

Actor-manager Colley Cibber stages The Loves of Mars and Venus at the Drury Lane Theatre; the first ballet to be performed in Britain.
Composer George Frideric Handel's Water Music is performed for the first time on a barge on the River Thames for George I.


International

John Law establishes the Mississippi Company to develop trade in Louisiania for France. His scheme results in the 'Mississippi Bubble'.
Triple Alliance formed between England, France and the Dutch Republic to uphold the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and maintain peace in Europe.
Competition between British and Dutch in factories on the coast of Mauritania results in the first 'gum war' over the lucrative trade in gum arabic.

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