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Angelica Kauffmann (Swiss, 1741–1807),
A Portrait of Mary Tisdal Reading , c. 1771–72
oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 29 3/4 in.
Museum purchase with funds from The Jack Drew Art Endowment Fund for 18th- and 19th-Century Art, 2016.9. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019

Through exhibitions, permanent collection acquisitions, and programming, Joslyn is working to elevate and amplify perspectives that historically have been underrepresented in the galleries. The Museum recognizes the potential of interpretation to highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in works of art. With OMAHA SPEAKS, we look to broaden the conventional interpretation of objects in our permanent collection by introducing commentary from leaders in our community.

Diana Martinez, Ph.D., Artistic Director, Film Streams

At 30 years old, Angelica Kauffmann was among the most renowned painters in Europe. She specialized in portraiture and history painting, the two most prestigious genres of art at the time. In 1771, Kauffmann traveled to Ireland, where she fulfilled many portrait commissions, including this one of the socialite Mary Tisdal.

Though scholars believe Mary is being depicted here as Erminia, the lovelorn heroine of the epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, we can also imagine a lot about the subject by considering what we don’t know: Why is Mary smiling? Is she admiring her beaded slippers? Or contemplating the sentence she just read? Are those letters stashed in her book? Are they from a friend? A special someone? Are those her sheep? Or were they drawn to her radiance amidst an otherwise monochrome pasture? Though we have few biographical facts about the subject of the portrait, do we need to know about Mary’s real life to get a vivid sense of the dreamy, young woman she might have been?


Diana Martinez is the Artistic Director of Film Streams, Omaha’s only non-profit arthouse organization. She received her Ph.D. in film and media studies from the University of Oregon, where she studied the intersections of race, gender, stardom, and authorship. She has also written on these subjects for Slate, The Atlantic, and Indiewire, among others.

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