All images © British Library
** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE **
** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE **

(Double click image to enlarge)

In this captivating print, Lady Elizabeth Keppel is represented full-length, decorating a term of Hymen with garlands of flowers, while deep in concentration with her kneeling black servant girl. Lady Keppel is pictured within an outdoor setting, sheltered by swathes of heavy, hanging drapery, and Reynolds has chosen to depict her in contemporary dress – more specifically, in the luxurious bridesmaid's dress that she wore to the royal wedding of George III and Queen Charlotte on 8th September 1761. This is unusual as during this decade, Reynolds tended to dress his female sitters in a mixture of contemporary and classical attire. In the image, a clear emphasis is placed upon the theme of marriage – with Keppel's striking, sumptuous dress andthe inclusion of Hymen, the God associated with unwed virgins, who holds a crown in his right hand, alluding to her role at the recent royal ceremony. Moreover, Hymen's plinth is inscribed with four lines from the Latin poet Catullus's Carmina LXI, which reads: 'Crown the temples with sweet-smelling marjoram, may you be present to help, O God of marriage'.

A strong diagonal line runs across the composition – from the bottom left-hand corner, up the thick silver skirt of Lady Keppel's dress, through her outstretched arms and fingertips, across Hymen's shoulder and out of the picture plane, reinforced by the fresh chains of flowers and deep folds of fabric – which can be read in two different ways. Itworks both to inform the viewer of the purpose of her actions and to help direct the eye across the painting. However, the direction of her gaze counteracts the upwards flow of the line, as she turns her head to look down towards her servant, creating interaction between the two, and blurring the boundaries between inside and outside in the upper and lower sections of the print. By twisting Keppel's head to face in the opposite direction to her arms, Reynolds cleverly captures the effect of movement and animation within the frame – allowing the spectator to seethe central figure caught between two separate actions. While shereaches up on tiptoes to adorn the statue, both the positioning of her head, and the fact that she engages her servant instead of the term, gives the impression thatin a moment's time she will reach down to take the next chain of flowers held by the servant girl.

As well as creating an interesting dynamic within the image, presenting her gaze in this way suggests a more private, personal bond between Keppel and her servant – who is perhaps also a companion, or confidante, to the young aristocrat. The atmosphere of an intimate moment shared by two companions is reinforced by the fact that their eyes are intensely trained upon one another, and neither glances out at the viewer.However, the servant girl looks up deferentially towards her mistress as if awaiting her instruction. This, along with her positioning on a lower level, crouchingbehind Lady Keppel's dress, shows her subordinatestatus – making it clear that even though there is a friendly familiarity between the two, she is still on a lower level in the pictorial hierarchy, which would have been considered appropriate. This dynamic composition is united as a whole by the interlinked gaze of the two female figures.

By Abbie Thomas