A Puritan Picture: Vanity, Morality, and Race in Seventeenth-Century Britain

The middle decades of the seventeenth century in Britain were characterized by radical political, religious, and social change. In this period, an unknown artist created a remarkable painting that spoke to fears and anxieties crystallizing around a perceived increase in moral laxity, gender transgression, and the insidious influence of foreigners. The painting depicts two women side by side, each wearing a conspicuous array of beauty patches. The woman on the left reprimands her companion with the words “I black with white bespott: y[o]u white w[i]th blacke this Evill / proceeds from thy proud hart, then take her: Devill.” Text and image combine to inveigh against the sins of pride, vanity, and worldly excess. The painting reminds the viewer that sinful behavior leads to the devil and exhorts them to seek salvation.

Purchased by the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) at auction in June 2021, the painting was recognized as a work of outstanding significance to the study of early modern race and gender. After an export stop, it was acquired by Compton Verney, an art gallery in Warwickshire that is housed in a Grade I–listed eighteenth-century manor surrounded by 120 acres of parkland, landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Compton Verney has loaned the painting to the YCBA for inclusion in the museum’s ongoing technical study of the theory and practice of painting skin tones. It will go on view at Compton Verney in November 2024. This enigmatic painting has never been subject to sustained research, and much about it remains uncertain. We do not know the identity of the artist or patron, or the original location of the painting, and it is not clear whether the two women are real or imagined figures.

The YCBA, in partnership with Compton Verney, will host a symposium to increase understanding of this significant object in the history of British art and culture. 

The symposium will be held at Hastings Hall, Yale School of Architecture, and online on September 27, 2024

For more information, please email 


Please register for online and in-person attendance for this event here. The schedule, a link to livestream the program, and more information about joining us in person will be shared at a later date.

Top image
Unknown artist, Two Women Wearing Cosmetic Patches, ca. 1650, oil on canvas, Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, Warwickshire, UK