1. Mark
    Mark November 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm .

    A reviewer in the “General Advertiser” of April 28, 1778, criticized the artist for the futile way the rope is handled, but we may believe that the uselessness of the rope was intentional, and that Copley meant to signify Watson’s dependence on God for his salvation.

    1. Charles McQuillen
      Charles McQuillen November 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm .

      While this was lifted from Irma Jaffe’s Copley’s `Watson and the Shark’ (please respect attributions) thanks for sharing this. This reference helped me to find other reviews from the time. Here (and above) are four online reviews that may be fun to share with students.Unlike some contemporary reviews that view the painting as a religious allegory, these reviews critique the practical accuracy of the depiction, insights uniquely suited to people who would witness like events. Would any, other than those raised in a sea faring nation, offer such sensitive insight into the sailor’s mannerisms or the depiction of the water. The reading of the black sailor in these reviews is also intriguing. “It would not be unnatural to place a woman in the attitude of the black; but he, instead of being terrified, ought, in our opinion, to be busy.” “…and the idle Black holding the Rope loose,…” “An idle Black, prompted by the connate Fear of his Country for that ravenous Fish, leans backward to keep the Gunnel of this Side of the Boat above Water…” Such a harsh assessment for a man I see as a pivotal figure offering a potential lifeline and serene compassion during a time of turmoil. Idle bystander or an instrument of God’s saving grace? Gotta love how sharing interpretations add layers of insight to a work of art—and the viewer.

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