National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Red Cross Knight John Singleton Copley (painter)
American, 1738 - 1815
The Red Cross Knight, 1793
oil on canvas
overall: 213.5 x 273 cm (84 1/16 x 107 1/2 in.) framed: 345.4 x 285.4 x 11.4 cm (136 x 112 3/8 x 4 1/2 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Gordon Dexter
1942.4.2
Not on View
From the Tour: John Singleton Copley
Object 10 of 12

This idyllic scene illustrates an episode from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, published in 1590. The lengthy Elizabethan poem concerns a Christian soldier’s search for Truth. Early in his quest, the knight encounters two lovely personifications of virtue. Faith, gowned in purest white and surrounded by a halo of divine light, holds a chalice with a serpent she need not fear. Hope, garbed in heavenly blue, carries a small anchor that recalls the biblical mention of hope “as an anchor of the soul.” To quote Spenser, the Red Cross Knight himself wears “on his brest a bloudie Crosse.”

The models were the artist’s own handsome children, now seventeen years older than when they posed for The Copley Family. John, the boy hugging his mother in that painting, is the Red Cross Knight. Elizabeth, the daughter standing in the center of the family portrait, is Faith, and Mary, the infant on the sofa, is Hope. The Red Cross Knight, Copley’s only painting inspired by literature, was shown at the Royal Academy in 1793.

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