Laura Alexander
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Anne Killigrew
A spiritual wit
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The Restoration court painter and poet Anne Killigrew features several written works in her Poems (posthumously published in 1686) explaining her visual artistry in relation to her Christian beliefs, and these poems helped Killigrew to re-define her poetic wit in relation to her spirituality rather than to secularism. Her poems, ‘St. John the Baptist Painted by herself in the Wilderness, with Angels appearing to him, and with a Lamb by him’ and ‘Herodias’s Daughter presenting to her Mother St. John’s Head in a Charger, also Painted by herself,’ accompany the John the Baptist paintings and show Killigrew’s interest in engaging religious ideas in her artistic process. Critics have rightly read Killigrew’s poems in relation to the proto-feminist texts that began to emerge in the period and acknowledge that Killigrew has a distinct and often angry voice in her works about women’s oppression. Anxious to separate her writings from courtly libertine texts, Killigrew looked to religious narratives for inspiration in articulating a self that was both witty and sacred, a unique artistic position in an age where wit was often collapsed with irreligious expressions and outrageous libertinism. This chapter examines that ‘self’ – a spiritual wit – in Killigrew’s verse and the larger implications for the gendered boundaries that women writing in the period negotiated.

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