About the Portraits of Governor Jonathan Belcher

When Governor Jonathan Belcher presented to Princeton College (then called the College of New Jersey) his own private library of nearly 500 volumes, which was the foundation of Princeton's library and made its library one of the largest in the American colonies, he also gave to the college a pair of terrestrial globes, his carved and gilded coat of arms to display in the college, and his own full length portrait that previously had been displayed in the blue chamber of his New Jersey mansion.

    Possibly, this full-length portrait given to Princeton was his official portrait painted when he was Governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire (1730-1741), only a mezzotint of which is now known to survive. This mezzotint depicts him in his magnificent coat and waistcoat, holding in his hand his governor's commission. In one corner of the picture is an official seal. This mezzotint depicts the most accurate and authentic likeness of Governor Belcher. Made when he was governor of the two New England colonies, the mezzotint picture is verified as being a bona fide representation of Governor Belcher's actual likeness by the fact that at the bottom of the mezzotint is an inscription specifically identifying the picture to be that of Governor Belcher, and also at the bottom of the mezzotint is Governor Belcher's coat of arms. The mezzotint was produced from a copperplate engraving by John Faber in 1734, and by means of the surviving mezzotint prints, the authentic appearance of Governor Belcher has been preserved down to the present day.

    A factor to consider with some Colonial portraits is the question of determining who the subject of the painting actually was. (A few Colonial portraits are occasionally misidentified.) Unlike portraits, which may bear no identifying inscription, this mezzotint of Governor Jonathan Belcher contains an inscription that reads: "His Excellency JONATHAN BELCHER, Esq., Captain General and Governor in Chief of His Majesty's Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire in NEW ENGLAND and Vice Admiral of the Same". In the middle of the inscription is the Belcher coat of arms. So, this mezzotint most certainly depicts Governor Jonathan Belcher. It should be noted that several other paintings identified as being portraits of Governor Belcher which are not themselves so labeled may not bear resemblance to the appearance of Governor Belcher's countenance as depicted in the mezzotint picture (the positively identified and verified picture our present generation has of Jonathan Belcher).

    A couple of known reproductions (oil portraits) of this mezzotint picture exist: A 36 3/4 x 26 inch oil on canvas painting that is exhibited at Princeton University (incidentally, Governor Belcher's coat of arms is also carved in stone over the doorway of the Princeton Library's main entrance), and a 60 x 36 inch oil on canvas painting owned by the Belcher Foundation.

    In addition to the mezzotint, another portrait of Governor Belcher that is known to have existed and is verified as being a depiction of him by the inclusion of his coat of arms at the top of the painting is a portrait reproduced on the page facing the title page of the book As We Were: The Story of Old Elizabethtown, by Theodore Thayer (published by the New Jersey Historical Society/Grassmann Publishing Co. [Elizabeth, NJ], 1964).

    Also, a beautiful reproduction of an earlier original (Franz Liopoldt) portrait is displayed in the New Hampshire State House. Another reproduction is in the art museum of Princeton University.


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