Portrait of Frances Burdett as Emma the Nut-Brown Maid
Francis Cotes, English, 1726 - 1770
In the fifteenth-century ballad “The Nut-Brown Maid,” a young girl’s fidelity is tested when she is asked to follow her outlaw lover into the woods and into an uncertain, troubled future. When she promises to do so and thus proves her love, her lover reveals that he is, in fact, a nobleman. Rewritten in 1709 as a poem by Matthew Prior, and later made into a play, the story of Emma, the Nut-Brown Maid delighted eighteenth-century readers. Many women desired to have their portraits painted as the character Emma, and were often shown, as here, hanging a wreath made of flowers and their lover’s hair on a tree branch.