National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of A Graduate of Merton College, Oxford Attributed to George Knapton
George Knapton (painter)
English, 1698 - 1778
A Graduate of Merton College, Oxford, c. 1754/1755
oil on canvas
overall: 127.7 x 102.1 cm (50 1/4 x 40 3/16 in.) framed: 150.2 x 124.5 x 10.2 cm (59 1/8 x 49 x 4 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Richard Southgate
Not on View
From the Tour: British Conversation Pieces and Portraits of the 1700s
Object 2 of 6

Merton at Oxford University is among the oldest colleges in the English-speaking world. In 1264-1274, the chancellor of England, Walter de Merton, endowed it as a secular institution patterned after higher education in religious orders. This painting's background depicts Merton College, including its chapel tower, as seen from Christ Church Meadow; these thirteenth- to fifteenth-century buildings still stand. Details that show changes to the architecture date the picture to around 1754/1755.

The unidentified youth wears the black gown of an undergraduate, a robe without a hood. He holds a black mortarboard and wears a simple white cravat. (Today, Oxford’s male students wear white bow ties.) Underneath this plain gown, though, he sports a satin coat and a waistcoat with ostentatious embroidery.

The absence of sleeves on his academic robe marks this aristocrat as a “commoner,” meaning a student who paid tuition. A gown with short sleeves indicates a “scholar,” or someone who required a financial grant.

The painter George Knapton, son of a prosperous London bookseller, spent seven years studying in Italy. A major artist in pastel chalks, Knapton capped his career as curator of the British royal picture collection.

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