Washington Allston (1779–1843)

Lorenzo and Jessica, 1832

Oil on artist's board, 15 x 18 in. (38.1 x 45.7 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2000.3

Washington Allston was one of America’s first successful academically trained artists. He is especially notable for blending the legacy of European traditions with the contemporary cultural movement known as romanticism. Painted late in Allston’s career, Lorenzo and Jessica demonstrates his admiration for the art of the Venetian Renaissance and his taste for literary themes. Based on act 5, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (first published in 1600), it depicts the solitary newlyweds reclining together on a bank. Isolating the two characters from the context of the play, the painting ignores the themes of vengeance and racial strife central to Shakespeare’s original work. Instead, it portrays the pair as a classic embodiment of romantic love. The interplay of rich shadows and softened forms creates a contemplative, intimate, and somewhat mysterious atmosphere that suggests Allston’s dreamy, idealized interpretation of the Italian Renaissance.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.