Before her infamous affair with Lord Horatio Nelson, Lady Emma Hamilton was already well-known in British society as an artist’s model and dancer. She was a favorite subject of George Romney, who had made many sketches of her and produced many paintings of her long after she had left England for Naples.
Emma’s husband, Lord William Hamilton, was a collector of art and antiquities, so it’s no surprise that Emma would find inspiration in her surroundings. She developed a series of performances that she called her” Attitudes.” She had her dressmaker make her robes and outfits modeled on both the costumes she wore for Romney and the dresses worn by peasant women in Naples. She would use different accessories, like shawls, and different sorts of props in performances that were a mixture of acting, dancing, singing, and postures to portray Greco-Roman and classical heroines. The audience would then have to guess which character Emma was portraying. The performances became an instant hit, and soon Sir William’s salon became a must-visit for high society visitors to Naples.
Emma’s performances also made her a favorite subject for other artists, such as French court painter Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, who, like Romney, painted Emma in the guise of classical heroines.
It’s easy to see from the portraits that Emma was a very striking and very intelligent woman. It’s no wonder that Horatio Nelson found her to be very alluring when they first met.
Source: Lofts, Norah. Emma Hamilton.
This was originally posted at Persephone Magazine, a daily blog for bookish, clever women.