Phillis Wheatley portrait, 1773

This digital record contains one image that depicts one portrait from folder 36 (labeled as: "Wheatley, Phillis (1753-1758) Am. Poets") from the Simon Gratz Collection. This folder also contains one letter which has also been digitized and can be viewed in record 13755.

Philli...

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Bibliographic Details
Collection:Simon Gratz autograph collection (#0250B)
Date:1773-09-01
Dimensions:10.2 x 15.2 cm
Box Number:Box 7/10
Folder Number:Folder 36
Format: Electronic
Subjects and Genres:
Copyright:Please contact Historical Society of Pennsylvania Rights and Reproductions (rnr@hsp.org)
Online Access:https://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/objects/13756
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Summary: This digital record contains one image that depicts one portrait from folder 36 (labeled as: "Wheatley, Phillis (1753-1758) Am. Poets") from the Simon Gratz Collection. This folder also contains one letter which has also been digitized and can be viewed in record 13755.

Phillis Wheatley was an enslaved author from Boston and an early darling of the Abolition movement. Her book of poetry Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published 1773 in London by Archibald Bell. This engraving was produced as a frontispiece by an unknown engraver. We know from one of Wheatley’s poems, that the portrait was based on a sketch by fellow enslaved Bostonian artist, Scipio Moorhead. This engraving is the only known, surviving example of Moorhead’s work. When Wheatley’s poems were originally published, there was little discussion on their content. Rather, European and American audiences preferred to treat her as a novelty, and they rarely discussed the artistic merit of her poetry. In the early 20th century she was dismissed as symbol of acquiescence. However, more recent and nuanced literary analysis reveals a layer of subversiveness in her work, hidden in wordplay, biblical symbolism, and metaphor. Her writing is far more complex and self-aware that any of her previous critics had realized, but it is likely that her black contemporaries knew exactly what she was writing about.