The picture of lust

Think of two people who are crazy in love with each other. They might look something like this:

Wait, this couple doesn’t lovey-dovey at all. There’s no flirting between them, no nervous giggles, and no longing looks. Ugh, not romantic at all!

Look a little closer. The line of the woman’s shoulder points to the gentleman. His hand is positioned a lot like hers. They are sitting in similar chairs, perhaps ones from the same dining room set. Back in the year 1824, portraits like these were the closest folks could get to a “selfie.” The poses may look stiff, but this couple’s backstory is compelling: Priscilla Cobb (left) was the daughter of a wealthy family in Mississippi. She fell in love with Calvin Smith (right), who was clearing land that would eventually become his farm. Priscilla’s rich parents weren’t happy about her affection for an aspiring farmer, so Priscilla and Calvin ran away and got married.

Now THAT’S romantic. Being together was so important to Priscilla and Calvin, nothing would stop them. They defied the wishes of her powerful family. They eloped in the hope that their love was worth the gamble.

I’m happy to report that eventually, Priscilla’s parents accepted the marriage. In other good news, Priscilla and Calvin’s humble farm became a prosperous plantation. The two portraits pictured above were done thirty-three years after they eloped, when the happy couple visited their daughter in Philadelphia. By that time, Priscilla and Calvin could afford to hire a distinguished artist to paint their portraits. This artist was a man named Bass Otis, who painted a portrait of someone else you might know: U.S. President William Henry Harrison.

You might say that for Priscilla and Calvin, love was definitely worth the risk. Their portraits are currently on display at the Delaware Museum of Art.


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