Eliza Ridgely: More Than Her Portrait
Citation of Original Publication
Pollauf, Jacqueline. "Eliza Ridgely: More Than Her Portrait." American Harp Journal (2021)
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Lady with a Harp, painted in 1818, is one of American artist Thomas Sully’s best known portraits.1 Eliza Ridgely poses with her harp in front of a window opening onto a pastoral scene. For some, the harp in the portrait may be seen simply as an instrument of beauty, emphasizing Eliza’s grace and elegance. For others, the inclusion of the harp is a signal of wealth, highlighting Eliza’s class and social status. The harp was not a prop; Eliza was an accomplished harpist and a dedicated musician, but it is impossible to separate the harp from its significance as an indicator of privilege. Eliza Ridgely lived a life in which music could be both a rewarding and serious artistic pursuit and a superior accomplishment that secured an elevated position in society. However, these cultural benefits were only made possible by Eliza’s position of privilege in a society dependent on chattel slavery.