The intricate detail and symbolism contained within this portrait of John Dryden (1631–1700) allude to his status as a successful poet, playwright and translator of classical literature.
The portrait was painted by James Maubert in around 1695. Maubert may have been commissioned to paint it for Jacob Tonson (1655/56–1736), Dryden’s long-term publisher and founder of the Whig political group known as the Kit-Cat Club.
Dryden is portrayed wearing a luminous, yellow-lined blue silk robe, draped loosely around him imitating the classical Roman or Grecian style. The quality of the material speaks through its lustre, and is reflected in the matching blue silk indoor shoes, which were of the highest fashion – as was Dryden’s full-bottomed periwig.
Symbols and motifs
Just behind Dryden on his desk rest books by Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, Horace and Montaigne. The laurel wreath resting on top of the books indicates their quality, and suggests that they inspire and influence Dryden’s own writing.
The sitting dog at Dryden’s feet symbolises the qualities of loyalty, care and persistence, all of which were vital attributes for a professional writer and translator of the classics.
In the background, perched by an open window, is an eagle with a scroll of paper in its beak looking out toward Mount Parnassus, home of the classical Muses. Traditionally, eagles signified perception, courage and strength, and were considered to be the messengers of the gods.
- Article by:
- Ashley Marshall
- Politics and religion, Satire and humour
Ashley Marshall suggests that there is more to Dryden's satiric poetry than the expression of high-minded moral values. Trace how Dryden's personal vendettas motivated some of the cruder and more vicious attacks in Mac Flecknoe, and how his satires reflected his immediate political and religious circumstances as much as timeless ideals.
- Article by:
- Andrew Macdonald-Brown
- Satire and humour, Language and ideas
Writers and craftsmen including Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Josiah Wedgwood found inspiration in the classical period. Andrew Macdonald-Brown explores how their works adopted the style, genres, aesthetic values and subjects of Greek and Roman writers.