Profiles of the Past
In the first half of the nineteenth century, before the advent of photography, wax bas-reliefs were one of many ways of preserving a person’s likeness. This pair of portraits of James and Faith Ridgeway of Worcester, Massachusetts, was made c.1810 by John Christian Rauschner, an itinerant artist. Rauschner started working in Salem, Massachusetts, around 1809 and then traveled south to work in New York, Philadelphia, and finally Virginia. To make a portrait, he used a plaster-of-paris mold to shape the wax, then sculpted and painted the form, adding miniature trimmings and accessories of lace and silk threads to reflect the individual sitter. His attention to detail resulted in wonderful documents of early nineteenth-century dress. Like this pair, Rauschner’s portraits were often placed behind reverse-painted glass in a molded frame for a shadow box effect. These examples are notable for their elaborately molded gilt frames. Recently given to SPNEA by the subjects’ great-great-granddaughter, they complement others in SPNEA’s collection attributed to Rauschner, including one of James Sullivan, Governor of Massachusetts from 1807 to 1809.
—Jennifer M. Swope