Based on the painting’s signature, which reads “J. Schul...fec” we have now identified the artist as Jeremias Schultz. Schultz was born in 1722 or 23, perhaps in Berlin, and he built a successful career as a painter in Amsterdam, where he died in 1800. Schultz painted portraits of residents of Amsterdam and the nearby city of Deventer, leading us to believe that the subject of our painting lived in the capital city of a vast global network of trade and exchange.

While we still do not know the name of the painting’s subject, we are learning more through our collaborative research. Stay tuned for more updates on our ongoing project.

Very few portraits of people of colour by European artists survive from this period. In our collection, Black subjects appear in several paintings, where they are cast in positions of servitude and enslavement. Four examples appear below.

Below, you can listen to interviews we conducted with different experts who all brought their knowledge to bear on our understanding of the painting. The interviews were conducted over the course of a year, while our research was ongoing, so in each episode you’ll hear us learn more and more.


Introduction to the series

Curators Adam Levine and Monique Johnson discuss their process and the different questions they hope to answer as they peel back the layers of Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom. In the following audio episodes, they share with you the first of these conversations with experts.

A Portrait of Possibilities - The Painting as a Physical Object

The Painting as Object

As art historians, we begin with the object itself. Our first conversation is with Maria Sullivan, Head of Conservation here at the AGO, to ask her about what evidence we can find in the physical painting itself. How can paint, canvas, and wood stretchers help us understand not only more about the painting’s creation, but also the life the painting has lived since? We ask Maria about the painter’s signature, why it is currently so hard to read, and what we can do in the future to learn more about this critical site on the canvas.

We look forward to future discoveries through conservation analyses!


The Dress

One critical object in our research is the sitter’s blue dress: this can help us understand when the painting was made and even offer insight into the life of the painting’s sitter. We interview two local experts on the history of dress: Ingrid Mida, PhD, author of The Dress Detective and Reading Fashion in Art and Alexandra Palmer, PhD, Nora E. Vaughan Senior Curator, Global Fashion & Textiles, at the Royal Ontario Museum. They tell us that the style of the dress corresponds to fashions worn in the 1770s. An analysis of the bodice of the dress indicates that the woman in the portrait may be younger than we first thought. We discuss what the dress and jewelry might reveal about the subject’s status and learn about the manufacture of and global trade in textiles in the eighteenth century. Where in the world were such items made, available, and worn?

Since this interview, Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom has also been featured on the Fashion History Timeline with an extended entry written by fashion scholar Kenna Libes. Libes' analysis and proposed date corresponds to the date range suggested by Dr. Mida and Dr. Palmer. The essay can be consulted here:

A PORTRAIT OF POSSIBILITIES - Race and Representation

Race and Representation

We speak with Charmaine A. Nelson, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University, about issues of race and representation in eighteenth-century portraiture. Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom was painted at the height of Trans-Atlantic Slavery. Dr. Nelson stresses the rarity of a “high art” individual portrait of a woman likely of African ancestry from this period. In discussing this portrait alongside two other paintings of women of colour whose lives we know more about, François Malépart de Beaucourt’s painting, variably called Portrait of a Haitian Woman and Portrait of a Negro Slave (1786), and David Martin’s Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray (c. 1778), Dr. Nelson questions how our subject had access to status and whether or not we can use the term agency in the context of her self-representation. What role did she play in commissioning the portrait and what was her relationship with the artist? What can we learn from this work where we presume the subject is a willing participant in her representation without being exploited or exoticized, bearing in mind that this portrait is “the exception not the rule”?

Watch the McCready Lecture on Canadian Art: Charmaine Nelson

Portait of a Lady with Orange Blossom - The Orange Blossom

The Orange Blossom

The lady in the portrait holds a flowering sprig in her right hand. How do we know it’s an orange blossom? We ask Deborah Metsger, Assistant Curator of Botany at the Royal Ontario Museum to help us definitively identify the plant. We learn about where and how orange trees grew in the eighteenth century and who might have owned a potted specimen like the one shown in the painting. There’s a long tradition of portraits of women holding flowers in European art. We discuss the potential symbolism of the orange blossom and the curious lack of orange fruit in this portrait.

Historical botanical illustrations used for comparison

Citrus aurantium

Citrus aurantium melitense

Jeremias Schultz, artist, and Joseph Pierre, collector

Jeremias Schultz, artist, and Joseph Pierre, collector

Adam Levine and Monique Johnson reflect on one year of studying the painting and share new, major discoveries: they have identified the painting’s maker, the likely location of the painting, and other works by the same artist. They’ve also uncovered new details about the painting’s provenance and the life it lived before it came to Toronto.



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