When the master portraitist John Singleton Copley painted this work, scholars, scientists, artists, and writers had been depicted in banyans for a century. Such a choice reflected the garment's unmistakable cultural connotations of gentility, creativity, and intellectualism. Sherburne, however, was a wealthy Boston hardware merchant—not an intellectual. His image reflects the trend of merchants donning banyans for their portraits, perhaps to advertise their access to goods and the peripatetic network of traders, travelers, and commercial ambassadors. Sherburne's wealth and ease in his sphere is reflected in his casual posture, his informal damask banyan and turban, and the abundance of the cascading blue English silk damask drape that serves as his backdrop.