The RI Historical Society portrait, oil on wood, 28" x 22"
The Painter: James Earl (1761-1796)
James Earl’s ancestors were Quakers who emigrated from Exeter, England, to Rhode Island in the seventeenth century and later settled near Worcester, Massachusetts. James Earl was born in Paxton and attended Leicester Academy. Like his older brother, Ralph, in whose footsteps he followed, James Earl was a Loyalist who traveled to England as a young man and spent a major portion of his artistic career studying and working in and around London under the tutelage of Benjamin West. The subjects of his portraits during this period tended to be other expatriate American Loyalists.
James Earl apparently returned to North America in 1794, landing at Charleston, South Carolina. Evidence indicates that he journeyed to New England later that same year and painted at least five portraits in Rhode Island over the course of several weeks. He returned to Charleston and later died there of yellow fever.
Though Ralph Earl is somewhat better known today, art historians agree that James Earl’s portraits are more finely executed than his brother’s, which are relatively rustic by comparison. The differences may reflect in part the younger brother’s longer career (ten years vs. seven) in England. In presenting the portrait to the Medical Society in 1890 (see “Provenance”), Amos Throop’s grandnephew stated in writing that the portrait of his great uncle was the work of Ralph Earl. In 2012, however, experts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design advised the Medical Society that Throop’s descendant had almost certainly confused the two Earl brothers, and that the work is that of James Earl, not Ralph.
Throop is shown seated in a Windsor chair, warmly dressed as if he were about to go out on professional business in cool weather. He is wearing an overcoat or cape of black wool lined with red velvet. Under the cape he wears a black frock coat cut in the fashionable style of the day with a high collar.
As in certain other portraits of learned persons around this time, the viewer is afforded a glimpse of the sitter’s private library in the background, and the spines of some of the books on the shelves bear the names of authors associated with the profession of the sitter. In the case of Throop, who is said to have acquired a love of books from his mentor, Dr. Jabez Bowen, we see the names of notable 18th-century Scottish, Dutch and English men of medicine: William Cullen, John Moore, Herman Boerhaave and Benjamin Moseley. No doubt these authors were in fact represented in Throop’s personal library, and their selection for the portrait may offer clues to the style of medicine that Throop practiced daily.
Presumably both portraits resided with Amos and Mary Throop in the grand brick house at 118 North Main Street, and they probably stayed there when the Throops’ nephew, Zachariah Allen, Jr., inherited the house in 1814. The portraits remained in the family for several more decades.
In 1890, Amos Throop’s grandnephew, Henry Dorr, an attorney working in New York City and the youngest sibling of Governor Thomas Wilson Dorr (of Dorr Rebellion fame), presented the larger portrait to the Rhode Island Medical Society as a gift from the family. The portrait was first displayed to the membership of the Medical Society on the occasion of the Society’s annual meeting, held June 12, 1890, in the quarters of the Providence Art Club, then as now on Thomas Street, across from the First Baptist Church in Providence.
The Allen branch of the family gave Earl’s oil-on-wood study of Throop to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1901.
Stanley M. Aronson, MD
Author, Medical Odysseys (9 minutes)
February 13, 5pm
The Better Angels of our Nature
DeCiccio Auditorium, Salomon Center
Steven Pinker, PhD
Professor of psychology, Harvard University
Prof. Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (Penguin, 2011), which runs 802 pages in the paperback edition. Pinker’s sweeping and controversial thesis blends psychology and history. He attempts to demonstrate that humankind has become progressively less violent in the course of the last five millennia, and he then speculates on the forces responsible for this apparent transformation of our species.
In support of his thesis, Pinker first identifies six overlapping waves that he sees washing through human history and contributing to a long-term decline in human violence. The first wave is a “pacification process” that began millennia ago. The second is a half-millennium-old “civilization process.” Next came “the humanitarian revolution” of the 17th and 18th centuries. The fourth, fifth and sixth waves all originated since the end of World War II, in Pinker’s analysis.
To further explain the positive progress he perceives in these six megatrends of human history, Pinker posits a creative tension involving five “inner demons” of human nature (these are “predatory or instrumental violence,” “dominance,” “revenge,” “sadism” and “ideology,” which includes religion), four “better angels” (which are “empathy,” “self-control,” “moral sense,” and “reason”) and five “historical forces” (namely, the state, commerce, “feminization,” “cosmopolitanism,” and “the escalator of reason”; Pinker characterizes this last-named force as “an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which “can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won”).
Pinker’s skeptics enjoy, perhaps as much as Pinker himself does, the intended irony in the title of his book. The familiar words “better angels of our nature” are borrowed from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861. Less than six weeks later, on April 12, 1861, America’s bloodiest war erupted when Charleston harbor rang with the shelling of Fort Sumter.
October 23, 2012
How the Mind Makes Morals
Patricia S. Churchland, PhD, professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California,
San Diego, and adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
A pioneer of the maturing discipline of neurophilosophy, Prof. Churchland argues that human morality originates in the structure and biochemistry of the brain. She and a rising chorus of neuroscientists are suggesting that moral judgments are mediated by innate, unconscious processes that are hardwired within our brains. Prof. Churchland’s latest book is Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality(Princeton 2011). Her earlier books are Brain-Wise (1986) and Neurophilosophy (2002). She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.
Medical Odysseys Book Signing & Authors' Reception
December 15, 2011, Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence
In January 2011, the Rhode Island Medical Society sent its portrait of Amos Throop to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to be restored. The conservators cleaned off decades of accumulated grime, removed layers of clouded, yellowed varnish, and repaired areas of cracked and lifted paint. Photos of the painted glove taken before and after conservation show the dramatic results of the cleaning and restoration. The work was finished in October 2011.
Neurobionics: Restoring and Replacing Lost Brain Functions with Technology
Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University
222 Richmond Street, Providence, Room 170
John P. Donoghue, director, Brown Institute for Brain Science
Prof. Donoghue was the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Brown and is the leading principal investigator of BrainGate, the research group that has won world-wide acclaim for its seemingly miraculous advances in developing useful neural interfaces for people with neurological impairments or limb loss. BrainGate is focused on restoring mobility, independence and communication to injured people by enabling them to execute computer commands through the activity of their brains.
To commemorate the bicentennial, and to acknowledge the valuable contribution medical students make to RIMS' programs by volunteering their time and energy, RIMS has established two prizes for deserving graduates of the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. The inaugural presentation of these awards will be held on May 25.
The Amos Throop Prize will henceforth be presented annually to graduating medical students who have demonstrated interest, aptitude and engagement in public policy relating to health care and in the role of organized medicine in advocating for patients. The Throop Prize is named for the first president of the Rhode Island Medical Society, a Revolutionary War veteran who served three terms in the Rhode Island General Assembly. More about Amos Throop
The Herbert Rakatansky Prize will be presented annually to graduating medical students who have distinguished themselves in promoting the health and well-being of their fellow medical students. The Rakatansky Prize is named for the founder and longtime leader and chair of the Physician Health Program of the Rhode Island Medical Society. More about RIMS Physician Health Program. More about Medical Student Awards.
For the first time in decades, select treasures from RIMS collection were on display in the Lownes Room at the Hay Library, where the entire collection is stored. Items in the collection date from the 16th century to the present
In 1987, RIMS made a gift of its collection of 55,000 books and antique medical instruments to Brown University. The most significant historical portions of the collection are now housed together at the John Hay Library.
Click to view the Bicentennial Commemorative Video.
October 23–November 5, 2012: Co-sponsored by the Brown Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute
RIMS 200th Anniversary Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Brown Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, will offer a series of distinguished public lectures regarding ramifications of recent advances in neurobiology.
As part of its bicentennial observances, RIMS is transferring the newly conserved portrait to the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design on long-term loan. There the painting will join the Museum’s four other James Earl portraits of Rhode Islanders on permanent display in the Pendleton House wing of the Museum. In the spring of 2012, the Society also presented a full-sized, photographic reproduction of the painting to the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. This reproduction is now prominently displayed on the second floor of the School’s new building at 222 Richmond Street in Providence. An identical reproduction now graces the offices of the Medical Society as well.
Featured in RISD's "Making it in America" Exhibit
The portrait was displayed from October 2013 through February 2014 as part of the RISD Museum’s exhibition, “Making It in America,” which consisted of paintings, sculpture, furniture and decorative arts from the museum’s collection. The selections illuminate the connection between American ambitions and the making of art from the pre-Revolutionary era to the early 20th century. In this context Dr. Throop played a central role, not just as patriarch of the medical society, but as a member of the General Assembly who argued for ratification of the Constitution during his first term in the GA in 1788.
Click to view congratulatory remarks from Governor Lincoln Chaffee, RI Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Reed, and Speaker, RI House of Representative Gordon Fox
March 4, 5pm (rescheduled from November 1, 2012)
Decisions, Decisions: Understanding the Neural Circuits of Human Choice
Paul W. Glimcher, professor of economics and chief investigator,
Center for Neural Science, New York University
Prof. Glimcher exemplifies the interdisciplinary character of the neuroscientific revolution, which
has been carried jointly by economists, psychologists and neuro-scientists. Glimcher and his fellow pioneering researchers have brought novel approaches to the investigation of the cognitive mechanisms by which humans collect, process and use information to make choices that are reflected in behavior. (“The relationship between behavior and the brain is fundamentally about understanding decision making,” wrote Glimcher in 2003.) What are the neural underpinnings of the process by which we weigh the relative value of different courses of action? How rational are our decisions? To what extent do our “choices” actually involve conscious choice and free will at all?
“For 200 years, the Medical Society has provided an important forum for Rhode Island physicians. In its protective arms, physicians have been able to tackle many serious issues and emerge with a strong voice to protect the most vulnerable among us – our patients. It has also been a safe haven for our colleagues who are in need of help to deal with personal issues. Representing Rhode Island physicians on a national level has ensured our participation in policy decisions that affect the entire country and, indeed, the world.”
—Kathleen C. Hittner, MD, from Medical Odysseys Preface
Rosecliff, Newport, RI Saturday, April 21, 2012
A festive black tie evening of dinner and dancing at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport commemorated RIMS’ founding, which took place at the Old State House in Providence on April 22, 1812.
Published in October 2011, this limited edition, 250-page illustrated book contains commentaries by Dr. Stanley Aronson and Dr. Joseph Friedman along with a series of new historical essays written for RIMS’ bicentennial by editor Mary Korr.
Dr. Amos Throop, c.1795 by James Earl, oil on canvas, 35.125" x 28.75"
Newell E. Warde, PhD
RIMS Executive Director (9 minutes)
Rhode Island Medical Society
Two portraits of Amos Throop are known to exist. Both are apparently the work of James Earl, probably done about 1795, when Throop would have been about 60 years old. The larger portrait is the property of the Rhode Island Medical Society and has been a familiar sight for all who have visited the offices of the Medical Society for the past 100 years. The smaller one (28 x 22 inches, oil on wood), is in the collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society and is not on public display.
The smaller portrait is apparently a study for the larger one. The facial features are carefully done, but the garments are slightly less finished in the smaller painting, and no background is shown. The smaller portrait also depicts Troop without his wig, showing his natural, wispy white hair. In the larger portrait, Throop is wearing his wig and sitting in front of his library of medical books.
Joseph H. Friedman, MD
Author, Medical Odysseys (4 minutes)