Elizabeth Carter ('Elizabeth Carter as Minerva')

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Elizabeth Carter ('Elizabeth Carter as Minerva')

by John Fayram
oil on canvas, circa 1735-1741
35 3/8 in. x 27 1/8 in. (900 mm x 690 mm)
Lent by Paddy Barrett, 2008
Primary Collection
NPG L242

On display in Room 9 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), Scholar and writer. Sitter associated with 9 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Fayram (active 1727-1743), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In 1741, Carter's publisher, Edward Cave, published a eulogy entitled 'On Miss CARTER's being drawn in the Habit of Minerva, with Plato in her Hand.' The poem alerted readers to this portrait depicting Carter as the goddess of wisdom who has laid aside the spear she usually carries in favour of a copy of Plato. As the poem explains, Minerva was an 'apt disguise' for Carter because both personified a combination of intellect, virtue and chastity. Together the painting and the poem reveal how Carter was presented as a moral role model for learned and creative professional women.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 37 Read entry

    Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), poet, translator and writer, first became acquainted with her contemporary Dr Samuel Johnson via her contributions to the Gentleman’s Magazine. It was the start of a friendship that lasted half a century, during which he described her as someone who ‘could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus from the Greek, and work a handkerchief as well as compose a poem’. One of the most learned Englishwomen of her day, Carter was a noted linguist, who spoke several European languages. She was also a classicist, who knew Hebrew, Arabic, Latin and Greek, and was especially celebrated, as Johnson acknowledges, for her translation of the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (All the works of Epictetus, which are now extant, 1758). Otherwise, a poet, an engaging wit and conversationalist, Carter established the first generation of Bluestockings, alongside such luminaries as Elizabeth Montagu, envisioning a more expansive role for women in the world. This portrait can be seen to celebrate her as a role model for learned and creative women everywhere, emphasising, as it does, her wisdom (via her presentation in the plumed helmet and armoured breastplate of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom) and her intellect (through the volume of Plato in her hand, suggesting the area of her learning).

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Events of 1735back to top

Current affairs

Second Parliament under George III. Robert Walpole maintains a substantial majority. Lord Bolingbroke gives up active opposition to Walpole and retires to France. Walpole moves into 10 Downing Street.
Welsh Methodist revival begins.

Art and science

Celebrated dandy Richard 'Beau' Nash appoints himself Master of Ceremonies at Tunbridge Wells.
William Hogarth founds the second St Martin's Lane Academy of Painting.
Lawyer and amateur meteorologist George Hadley publishes the first explanation of the trade winds


International

Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus publishes a 'system of nature', capable of classifying all living things.
Swedish chemist Georg Brandt discovers a new metallic element, which he names cobalt.
A revivalist movement in America, led by Jonathan Edwards, becomes known as the Great Awakening.
Composer Johann Sebastian Bach debuts his Ascension Oratorio in Leipzig.

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