Judge Samuel Sewall

John Smibert (American (born in Scotland), 1688–1751)


76.2 x 63.5 cm (30 x 25 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

Not On View





Sewall (1652–1730) was among the leading jurists of Massachusetts, serving as chief justice of the Superior Court in the 1720s. Earlier in his career, Sewall presided over the 1692 Salem witch trials (and was the only one of the three judges to publicly recant his role in that event). Today, he is perhaps best known for his copious diary, which provides much critical information about personalities and events of the time. Smibert’s portrait captures Sewall just months before his death, dressed in the sober colors befitting a judge and wearing the long, lacy tie that often appears in the artist’s portraits of elderly men.


Upper spandrel: The Honble Samuel Sewall Esq Chief Justice ---- Of the --- Of Probate for the County Of Suffolk AEtatis 78
Lower spandrel: Auris Mens Oculus Manus Os Pes Munere Fungi Dum Pergunt Praestat Discere Velle Mori


The artist; to the Rev. Joseph Sewall, the sitter's son, 1730; to Samuel Sewall, 1769; to Judge Samuel Sewall, 1776; to the Rev. Samuel Sewall, Burlington, Mass., 1814; to Samuel Sewall, 1866; to Nellie L. Sewall Bennet; Benjamin Flayderman, Boston, 1943; with Vose Galleries, Boston, 1957; to MFA, 1958, gift of WIlliam L. Barnard by exchange and purchase.

Credit Line

Bequest of William L. Barnard, by exchange, and Emily L. Ainsley Fund