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John Henry Hobart (1775-1830)

Object Name: Brooch
Date: 1816-1830
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Medium: Enamel on copper set in gold brooch
Dimensions: Overall: 1 1/8 × 7/8 in. (2.9 × 2.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift from Carol Robinson Schepp and Louis J. Schepp
Object Number: 2014.15
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Inscribed: "Hobart" written in gold ink on reverse.

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John Henry Hobart (1775-1830), the subject of this enamel portrait miniature, was the third Episcopal bishop of New York from 1816 until his death.

Hobart was born at the outset of the Revolutionary War—a period during which the Church of England’s loyalty to the crown caused its American congregation to decline and led to the establishment of the Episcopal Church in 1789. As a religious leader, Hobart aggressively focused on the revitalization of Anglicanism and was a vocal representative of the High Church party, which competed against the Evangelical party in framing the new American Anglican identity within the context of the Second Great Awakening’s Protestant Evangelical revivals and reforms.

The Philadelphia native completed his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), eventually becoming a tutor and studying theology under the guidance of William White (1748-1836), the first Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania. Hobart was ordained a deacon by White in 1798. After serving parishes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, in 1801 he became the assistant minister of Trinity Church parish. In 1811 he was named assistant bishop, though he assumed many of the duties of Benjamin Moore, the ailing bishop of New York. Upon Moore’s death in 1816, Hobart was named bishop of New York and rector of Trinity Church.

With the aim of expanding the New York diocese, Hobart’s activities included founding the Bible and Common Prayer Book Society, which distributes the texts to local congregations, and co-founding the General Theological Seminary, the first Episcopal seminary. He encouraged the establishment of Geneva College (now Hobart and William Smith College), with support from Trinity Parish, to provide a center of culture and theological study in western New York.

The enamel portrait miniature has been attributed to the English painter and printmaker William Russell Birch (1775-1834), who is credited with transmitting the technique of enamel painting to the United States when he emigrated from London to Philadelphia in 1794. In an essay on enamel painting that Birch includes with his unpublished autobiography, he defines the medium as the “unick Art of Heightening and preserving the beauty of tints to futurity, as given in the Works of the most celebrated Masters of Painting, without a possibility of their changing.”

Birch studied enamel painting during his apprenticeship to Thomas Jefferys, a London goldsmith, and later with miniaturist Henry Spicer. He worked independently by 1783 and became friends with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged the enamelist to copy his paintings in order to preserve his colors for posterity. Birch’s technical innovations include devising a yellow enamel undercoat for his portraits to impart “a warmth of colouring.”

Arriving in Philadelphia with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin West to William Bingham, who would become his first U.S. patron, Birch soon built a furnace and began to produce enamel portraits. Although he was an artist in his own right—he published collections of landscape engravings, including The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America (1800) and The Country Seats of the United States (1808)—many of Birch’s miniatures were based upon portraits by others, such as his sixty enamel copies of Gilbert Stuart’s Vaughan portrait of George Washington.