SCRIPT – DEBORAH HALL
STRING QUARTET/PARTY CROWD
Welcome to colonial Philadelphia. The year…1766. The place...a reception in the home of David Hall, a wealthy printer. Hall was once in business with Benjamin Franklin. And there’s Franklin over in the corner, chatting with other guests...all invited to the unveiling of an oil painting...a portrait of Hall’s daughter Deborah by the artist William Williams. Williams is a self taught painter...he also makes his living painting signs and scenery for plays. He’s already painted over a hundred portraits, and he knows how David Hall wants his daughter portrayed. She is of course, a member of Philadelphia’s elite high society, and so Williams paints the young woman in the same way that European painters of that time would portray a woman of wealth and status. He’s painted her in a formal, manicured garden, wearing fancy clothes, and standing in an elegant pose. And he makes the painting an impressive size...it’s 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
And now there’s David Hall in the parlor standing by the painting, reaching to pull aside the sheet that covers it....
CROWD APPLAUDS POLITELY
Another success for artist William Williams. The sophisticated guests appreciate his achievement...for they know that what appears to be a realistic portrait of a young woman standing in a garden...is also a painting filled with symbols...symbols that reflect Deborah Hall’s place within her family and her society.
And now here’s a verbal description of the painting Deborah Hall.
The figure of Deborah Hall is almost life size. She fills the center of the painting. She’s standing outdoors on grass in a formal garden setting. Her face looks straight at us, though her body is turned at a slight angle to her right. She’s not smiling, not frowning. The neutral expression on her face doesn’t tell us much about her personality. But we’re supposed to understand who she is by the setting, her dress, and the symbolic objects that surround her.
First, the setting. Behind Deborah Hall and on the right of the painting you can see a formal garden. Everything is idealized, and artificial, not realistic. Pristine paths of light brown earth wind through islands of manicured grass and perfectly sculpted bushes and trees. In the far background of the garden is a pure white wall. The wall has niches, recessed spaces that hold full-length classical statues of people. The sky on the right contains perfectly formed white cumulus clouds.
Now her clothes. Deborah Hall is wearing an open robe, a full-length gown fashionable at the time. It’s pink, tight on the bodice and then flaring out dramatically over hoops worn under it. The material is shiny, probably satin, and shows elaborate decorative detail on both the skirt and bodice. The bodice is low cut, trimmed with white lace. She wears a white lace choker around her neck, and loose white lace cuffs on her arms that extend from her elbows to her wrists. On the front of the dress below the neckline is an embroidery, a bouquet of flowers. Her hair is brown, pulled back and tied with a dark blue bow. A ponytail of long hair hangs on her left shoulder.
On her head she wears a circlet of lace, a sort of tiara decorated with white and blue precious stones.
She seems better dressed for a ball or party than for tending plants in a garden. But she’s standing at a brown wooden worktable, on her right, that is, the left side of the painting. On top of the table sits a potted rose plant. She’s holding one blossom with her right hand as if she’s about to pluck it from the plant. The rose blossoms are the same pink color as her dress. Colonial viewers would have noticed that color similarity, and would see the rose she plucks as a symbol of love and beauty and possibly as a sign that she’s ready for marriage. They would also understand that the beauty of a rose is often accompanied by the prick of the thorn, just as the joys of love are often hard won.
In her left hand she holds the leash of a small pet squirrel that sits on top of the worktable. The pet squirrel was a symbol for duty and obedience. The side of the table facing us has a sculptural relief carved on it showing Apollo and Daphne, two figures from Greek mythology. These figures symbolize chastity, because in Greek mythology the god Apollo pursued Daphne, but was never able to conquer her.
Taken all together, the symbols in the painting portray Deborah Hall as having qualities that were valued in young women as they became old enough to marry...beauty, chastity, and obedience.