Publication in: Spring 2023 Issue

Discovering Iconographic Links in a Perpetual Silver Covenant Chain: Eighteenth-Century Portraits of Hodinöhsö:ni ׳ Diplomats from British North America
Bonnie Elander
Art/Art History
Faculty Mentor(s):
Leisa Rundquist
Abstract / Summary:
Eighteenth-century portraiture of Haudenosaunee sachems (chiefs), by North American and European artists represents the socio-political ideology of a Silver Covenant Chain linking reciprocal treaties between their Confederacy and colonial nations. These accords regulated policies of intercultural exchanges, particularly between the Haudenosaunee and British. As a "living" doctrine, it was formed organically to honor traditions and governments while maintaining autonomy for both indigenous and European groups. Scholars note that such Northeastern heritage principles often materialize as tangible threads of mnemonic wampum designs. However, little to no research acknowledges how a small collection of eighteenth-century portraits reflect the Covenant Chain and relationships based on Six Nations worldviews of respect, peace, and friendship. Analyzing a sequence of six artworks from 1710 to 1796, this paper establishes patterns of chieftain iconography revealing a progression of their agency, characterizations, and cultural authenticity. Portraits in this analysis include: Hendrick Teoniaghigarawe, Nicholas Etowaucum, Hendrick Peters Theyanoquin, David Hill Karonghyontye, Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, and John O’Bail Gayёtwahgeh. Symbolic ethnographic artifacts in the paintings, as well as letters, and diplomatic speeches relate to the duality of war and peace within alliances, shedding light on historic conflicts that factored into these portraits and New York’s changing geo-political landscape. Previous Eurocentric categorization of the portrayals’ subjects as exotic subordinates disregards the significance that each artwork held as an illustration of Covenant Chain diplomacy. In contrast, this study of Six Nations portraiture reveals a visual language of ongoing renewal within the Silver Covenant Chain that demonstrates each portrait's value to transnational relationships.
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