- Museum number
- Object: A Lady at Confession
Seated monk hearing confession of young woman, r, kneeling and looking to front, peering down at her legs; published state
- Production date
Height: 253 millimetres
Width: 200 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Text from Antony Griffiths 'The Print in Stuart Britain', BM 1998, cat.181)
Almost all the subject mezzotints that Smith published were made for him by others, who usually remain anonymous. This is one of the few that he made himself, and is dated 1691 in the album in the New York Public Library [Smith Vol. 1, fol. 63]. It is one of the latest prints that Smith made for another publisher. Smith mezzotinted or published two variants of this composition by Laroon, in reverse of each other, showing the monk thrusting his hand into his trousers (one is W.452), as well as two other prints showing the two figures at half-length (W.451 and 453).
Prints, sometimes pornographic, showing Catholic priests and beautiful penitents turn up frequently in British seventeenth-century printmaking. The earliest known example was made for Compton Holland around 1620, and shows Friar Cornelius of Dort, who stripped penitent women naked, and beat them for their absolution (now in the Houghton Library, Harvard). This is based on some Dutch prototype, for the subject comes up in Dutch printmaking (eg. Jacob Gole, Hollstein 186). In the 1680s a new wave of monk and friar subjects emerged in small mezzotints. Apart from those by John Smith, listed above, the albums of his publications in the National Portrait Gallery include two further types, a monk flagellating a woman, and a monk and woman carousing (after L.Castro). Francis Place made a composition with a half-length monk and penitent for Pierce Tempest (Hake 219), and the list could be extended.
Many of these prints state that they are after paintings by Laroon, but some (eg. BMSat 1413, a monk and kneeling penitent) give the name of Egbert van Heemskerk (see cat.182). Heemskerk made a painting that was mezzotinted by Isaac Beckett of a man confessing to a monk, overheard by his wife. The four lines of verse end:
Betwixt a subtile priest and cursed wife
I'm plagu'd for my transgression.
The two great follyes of my life
Is marriage & confession.
The confession type became so familiar that it was adapted in a satire (BMSat 1146 of 1716?) with the title 'Converte Angliam' and text 'It is a foolish sheep that makes the wolf her confessor'. The engraving shows a wolf in monk's clothing in a confessional with a fashionably dressed penitent.
Smith's plate was pirated in reverse by Pieter Schenck (Hollstein 431), who had the effrontery to add a Dutch privilege to protect himself against copying.
Chaloner Smith's numbering of the states is unsatisfactory; he misses this state, published by Cooper, entirely. Cooper's is the earliest known address for this print. (Information supplied by Nicholas Stogdon, via email May 2014.)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2000 Jan-Mar, Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000 May-Jul, Bristol, City Mus and AG, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000 Oct-Dec, Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000/1 Dec-Feb, Banff, Duff House, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2001 Feb-May, Cardiff, National Mus, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2011 Sep-Dec BM, P&D, Early mezzotints
2020 4 Feb-19 Apr, London, Tate Britain, British Baroque: Power and Illusion
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number