With Portrait Unveiling, Gomes Makes Harvard History

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick and Harvard President Drew G. Faust discuss the newly unveiled portrait of the late Rev. Peter Gomes. The two knew Gomes well, and spoke before the painting was revealed in April.
As a professor and chaplain on Harvard’s campus for more than three decades, Reverend Peter J. Gomes was hard to miss. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister at Memorial Chapel, was beloved at the University as a thunderous Baptist preacher and staunch advocate for gay rights.

Now, his likeness will live on at the University he called home for so many years. On Thursday, University President Drew G. Faust unveiled a portrait of Gomes—who died in 2011—that will hang on the seafoam green walls of the Faculty Room in University Hall. The first portrait of a person of color to hang in the storied chamber, Gomes' likeness joins a host of paintings of hallowed Harvard faculty and leaders.

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, and Wendel W. “Tad” Meyer, a former acting Pusey Minister, joined Faust in introducing the portrait and the man it represents. They each spoke warmly of a passionate, dedicated member of the Harvard faculty who was not afraid to speak his mind at the monthly FAS faculty meetings.

Smith commenced the ceremony and reception in the ornate room, packed with a who’s-who of Harvard faculty, staff, and alumni. Faust and Smith both pointed out that the Gomes portrait will perch near where the man himself used to sit during faculty meetings—in a back corner, near the door.


“I’m afraid that after we dedicate this portrait it will begin to speak,” said Faust, who recalled when Gomes came to her office after she was elected president and pledged his “fealty” to her. “I’ll look up and I’ll find him declaiming against some measure that he sees as an unwarranted and dangerous intrusion of the present upon the past.”

History professor Joyce E. Chaplin, and Robin Kelsey and Thomas B.F. Cummins, both History of Art and Architecture professors, made up the selection committee that chose Gomes to have a portrait in the Faculty Room. Yuqi Wang painted the portrait of Gomes in regal religious robes.

“I take great delight in the fact that this portrait will hang here in this impressive setting, establishing a new and long overdue precedent so that all who gather here from every race, creed, sexual orientation, or political inclination may be inspired to engage the mystery of this remarkable human being,” Meyer said during his remarks.

A close-up of the painting of the late Rev. Peter Gomes to be added to a University Hall collection of works depicting important Harvard personages. It was revealed Thursday evening in front of a number of Harvard administrators.

Patrick, a student and friend of Gomes, recalled the reverend’s advice to look at things he did not understand—such as a Joyce passage or his roommate’s political views—from a different angle.

“I’m hoping, for those of us who from time to time have an opportunity to sit beneath this portrait and his others, that we will see looking down from the loving, witty, whimsical, wise expression a constant reminder to try that new perspective,” Patrick said.

While few have their portraits hung in the Faculty Room, the honor, many said, would have suited Gomes.

“The Peter Gomes that I knew and loved would never think that there can be too many attempts to portray the depths of his mystery in all of its penetrating perplexity,” Meyer said.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.