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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (née Pierrepont) was the wife of Edward Wortley Montagu, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1716 to 1718. Independent and well educated, Lady Mary was a well-known figure in society and a great writer. Some of her poems and essays were published in her lifetime and she also published a periodical for a short time in the late 1730s, in support of Robert Walpole. Her travel writings were published posthumously.
On the reverse of the canvas, the Montagu coat of arms has been painted, with the Latin inscription ‘pie repone to’, meaning ‘place yourself piously’ below. Under the coat of arms, a carefully painted inscription states that the portrait was presented by the sitter to her friend Henrietta Cavendish Harley (née Holles, 1694-1755), Countess of Oxford and Mortimer. However, later accounts state that the work was commissioned by Harley and presented by her to the sitter.
Carlo Francesco Rusca was born in 1696 in Lugano, within the Italian-speaking area of Ticino in southern Switzerland. He studied under the Italian painter and etcher Giacomo Amigoni (c.1685-1752) and was active from 1722 until his death in 1769. He worked in numerous European cities, including Venice, Kassel, Hanover, Brunswick and Milan. He is known to have been in London in 1739, when his portrait of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (née Pierrepont) was painted, indicating that Lady Mary sat for him before she left England for Italy later that year. Rusca died in Milan in 1769.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) writer and traveller
Oil on canvas
height: 85.00 cm, width: 66.00 cm
Purchased from Trustees of the Wharncliffe Estate, February 1959
Inscribed on verso of canvas: [coat of arms] PIE REPONE TE / The Right Honourable / Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. / Done from the Life by / Carolus De Rusca, Eques Mediolanensis / Pinxit Londini Anno. 1739 / Given by her Ladyship to / Henrietta Cavendishe Holles, / Countess of Oxford, & Countess Mortimer
Collection of the sitter; by whom presented to Henrietta Cavendish Harley (née Holles; 1694-1755); collection of the Trustees of the Wharncliffe Estate (on loan to the Ministry of works from 1955); from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in 1959
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