Benjamin West Painting of the Shackamaxon Treaty of 1682 / by Les Ann Holland


Following the branches and leaves of the tree into the heart of the horizon and situated in the right-hand fifth of the viewer's center, we see figures grouped around the base of this and other trees in the background. Adults face the foreground, while children face the tree. We see mostly unclothed adults on the right, elongated in a Mannerist style. In the mid fore-ground, a seated warrior, peacefully holding a weapon in his left hand, sits barefoot next to a man on his right, who wears only a neutral colored cloth at his base. A red sash with black pattern crosses his back from right shoulder to left. To the right, in the foreground, a child in shiny yellow fabric gestures to the red sash of the figure seated in front of him, with her or his head turned to the left, regarding a figure with long black hair wrapped in a blue patterned cloth. This figure holds a child, strapped to a board without mobility in its arms. Without the straps, would it slide off the picture plane? It seems, pictorially speaking, that the arm resting upon the infant is merely a symbolic gesture. We are then brought back into the picture plane via a red cloth, somewhat reflective, though not as reflective as the yellow next to it, which appears to be silk. At this point, we can either revisit the figures seated beyond the yellow or continue to the left of the foreground to encounter new forms also anchored on the earth, though not below the tree. We notice a man with his hand on the back of the warrior, corresponding to the back of the heart, just below the cervical spine. Figures in more elaborate headdress stand behind two figures dressed in pants and suits, dressed in bold colors mirroring the right-hand figures in the foreground, holding a hefty bolt of ivory colored cloth. Following the unfurling bolt of cloth to the right-hand side of the composition, we see yet more brightly colored fabric--green and more yellow. Why are some of the figures on the right wearing it while others are not? A triad of green is formed from the from the figure at center, traveling to the right, then back to the trees. We see to the left, architecture. With no markings visible, they are in the background and not so chromatic. Are they churches? Dwellings? Schools? What sort of activities occur in this reality? To the right of the buildings, we see, nestled below the trees, what appear to be tents. Fabric staked by poles. Following the horizon line to the left, we see more red, mimicked in the pattern of the headdress. Following these to the left, we see the only true black in the composition, located just above the heart of the horizon, mirrored from the other side. The negative space collapses here, creating a contrasted pattern within the composition: seven figures wear black hats. Two sit just in front of them, dressed in cloaks also. Similar to the figures in the right-hand foreground, these are brightly adorned and sitting upon trunks and wearing shoes. To the left is the sea. In the background, to the left, we see boats and a figure, possibly two, aggressively charging the ground to the right. This leads us back up the shore, up the facade of the left-most building, the height of which is mirrored in the trees to the left and to the right of the structures. Just below our original tree, maybe an elm, we finally rest upon the two heads of the elders in the background. One holds his hand to his mouth, while the other looks toward the numerous figures to his left. A man and a woman stand there, speaking. A child wears an (elongated) container of arrows on herxhis back, left and right arm poised above his solar plexus.|3