- Museum number
- Object: Drawings faithfully copied from nature at Naples...
An original stitched folder with an engraved title page and twelve plates etched after Rehberg; the title page illustrated with a profile portrait in a round frame of Emma Hamilton with hair down and a shawl around her head, each of the following plates showing her in Greek costume and assuming a different one of her famous 'attitudes'. 1794
Etching and engraving
- Production date
Height: 265 millimetres (average)
Width: 205 millimetres (average)
- Curator's comments
Text from Griffiths/Carey, 'German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe', BM 1994, cat. 81:
Although the title page only hints at the identity of the lady portrayed (the profile is labelled EH for Emma Hart), she is Lady Hamilton, Sir William's wife and later the mistress of Lord Nelson. In Naples, she was famous for her poses in Greek costume with which she entertained her husband's guests after dinner. The bemused Goethe saw the performance twice, and left a famous account in his 'Italian Journey' (16 March 1787): "She lets down her hair and, with a few shawls, gives so much variety to her poses, gestures, expressions, etc. that the spectator can hardly believe his eyes. He sees what thousands of artists would have liked to express realised before him in movements and surprising transformations - standing, kneeling, sitting, reclining, serious, sad, playful, ecstatic, contrite, alluring, threatening, anxious, one pose follows another without a break . . . This much is certain: as a performance it is like nothing you ever saw before in your life."
The set of prints, each of which shows a different attitude, was credited by Koch as founding Rehberg's reputation as a fashionable painter ('Moderne Kunstchronik' p. 19). It adopts the outline method of drawing used for Tischbein's edition of Hamilton's vase collection for Lady Hamilton's Greek performance. Rehberg chose to engrave the plates Tommaso Piroli (1750-1824), the same engraver who had the previous year engraved John Flaxman's sets of outline illustrations to Homer's 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey'. These epoch-making prints were the first occasion that original compositions had been made "on principles of the Antients" (as Flaxman put it in a letter), and were to exercise a profound influence on European art. Piroli became the leading specialist in this type of engraving: a list of the plates he had for sale (undated, but c. 1818, in the Department library) shows that apart from four Flaxman series, he also owned the plates for the Carstens/Koch 'Les Argonautes' (see 1984,0225.3 (1-24)).
Some discussion of the different editions of this series and of copies from it (e.g. by G.T.Stubbs) will be found in Gram Holmstrom, 'Monodrama, attitudes, tableaux vivants', Stockholm 1967, p.119. The Houghton Library at Harvard published in 1990 a reproduction of the set under the title 'Lady Hamilton's attitudes' with an introduction by Richard Wendorf.
Jenkins & Sloan 1996
Rehberg studied with A. R. Mengs in Rome at the end of the 1770s and on his return to Germany was appointed drawing master to Hamilton's friend the Prince of Dessau at Wörlitz. A Prussian art academy was projected for Rome in 1787, and Rehberg returned to Italy. There he must have come into contact with Tischbein, who was soon to be working on the publication of Sir William Hamilton's second collection of vases. The outline drawings Rehberg made in Naples for this set of Lady Hamilton's attitudes clearly show the influence of the artistic circle in which he was working (Wendorf, n.p.), an influence emphasised by the employment of the engraver Tommaso Piroli, whose prints of John Flaxman's outline illustrations to Homer had appeared the previous year.
The twelve attitudes in which Emma is represented in this publication have their origin in a variety of sources familiar to all connoisseurs and Grand Tourists. No doubt this contributed to the enjoyment of the performances, adding the pleasure of recognition to the experience. Some of her poses which were easily recognisable to her contemporaries are less obvious to us now without the assistance of their accounts:
"... she single-handedly created a living gallery of statues and paintings. I have never seen anything more fluid and graceful, more sublime and heroic; the English Aspasia knows very well how to assume every part; thus at one moment I was admiring in her the constancy of Sophonisba in taking the cup of poison ... at another the desperation of Gabriella de Vergy, on discovering the heart of her warrior lover still beating in the fatal vase; afterwards, changing countenance at a stroke, she fled, like the Virgilian Galatea who wishes to be seen among the willow after she has thrown the apple to the shepherd, or else she cast herself down like that drunken Bacchante extending an arm to a lewd satyr". [Rezzonico, pp. 247-8]
When she began to perform her attitudes around 1786, Emma's repertoire was at first based on old masters and the wall-paintings at Pompeii or Classical sculpture such as the Niobe group. No doubt Sir William's vases also provided inspiration. Some of the poses, such as the one shown in Jenkins & Sloan 1996 (Lady Hamilton seated in a klismos chair in a pose entitled 'Penseroso' in the later German edition), indicate literary sources; Milton's 'Penseroso' (see Oo,5.22) and Sterne's 'Maria' had been the subject of many recent paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby and others. The eleventh plate in the series was described as 'Saint Rosa' in the German edition, but the figure is remarkably similar to Flaxman's image of Dante's 'Beatrice', engraved by Piroli only the year before he produced these plates.
The publication of Rehberg's drawings of Emma's attitudes went through several editions. Piroli's name is given in one edition, apparently the first (not dated), and in another the date 1794 replaces the engraver's name. A third edition was frequently sold with a drawing book of twelve similar plates of outlines "selected with great care from Antient Statues, Monuments Basrelievos &c representing the principle Characters in the Plays of Racine ... from the most correct & chaste Models of Grecian & Roman Sculpture" and included on the title page a reference to several other drawing books, including 'Lady Hamilton's Attitudes'. Finally, a French and German edition was issued which provided titles for the 'attitudes'.
Lady Hamilton's attitudes were already well known in court circles throughout Europe, as Emma had performed them not only in Naples to visitors from all countries for over eight years, but also in London, Paris, Geneva, Venice and Rome in the year of her marriage, 1791. With Rehberg's publication, their fame was extended to other levels of society, to collectors of prints and to the growing numbers of amateur artists who used them as copy-books, not just in Britain, but also in France, Germany and Switzerland.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1994, London BM, German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe', cat.81
1996, London BM, 'Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his collection', cat.160
2001 Jun-Sep, London, Tate Britain, 'Gillray and the Art of Caricature'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number