Inside the Museum: Did you Know?

William Pitt (Lord Chatham)

Did you know that the portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, tells a story in symbols?

1. In the background is the royal palace of Whitehall, from a window of this hall Charles I passed in 1649 to the scaffold erected in the roadway.

This is a warning as to what happens to Kings who disregard the rights of citizens.

2. Mr. Pitt is dressed as a Roman consul, to portray him as a wise, honorable person.

3. He is holding in his left hand, the Magna Carta, an agreement of liberties and privileges granted by King John in 1215.

4. The female figure of Liberty which Pitt is pointing to with his right hand represents freedom.

5. Liberty is holding above her head a Phrygian cap and Greek liberty cap.

6. At Liberty’s feet is a petition against the Stamp Act labeled “Congress of New York”.

7. On the lower left side stands an Indian, with a bow in his hand and a dog at his side. The Indian represents the steadfastness of the American Colonies while the dog represents their faithfulness. There is a quiver of arrows on the Indian’s back to signify that the colonists will fight if they have to.

8. The cloudy sky in the background represents the troubled times while the streak of blue means hope for the future.

9. The alter is supported by two figures, John Hampden and Algernon Sydney who were English martyrs to the cause of liberty against the Stuarts and defended common rights in the 17th century. (This is who Hampden and Sydney College is named for.)

10. Between the two faces of Hampden and Sydney is the Latin inscription Sanctus/Amor/Patriae/Dat/Animum, “Sacred love of country gives life or love to the nation”.

11. On the alter lies a civic crown of laurel leaves and the sacred fire of liberty.

12. The painting is signed in the lower left corner, “C.W. Peale of Maryland/Pinx, 1768″. Pinx is Latin for “he painted it”.

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