Lady Emma Hamilton as Thalia, 1797
Engraving. 440 x 320 mm
As though for a brief moment, Lady Emma Hamilton (1761-1803) removes the comedian’s mask from her face to reveal who she is. Her biographer, Walter Sichel, describes how she was painted, modelled and interpreted in virtually every conceivable material. Her husband was the British diplomat in Naples, Sir William Hamilton (1770-1803). In their home in the Palazzo Sessa, he had furnished a room in which she appeared in a range of different roles. In this print, based on Angelica Kauffman’s painting from 1791, Lady Hamilton is seen in the part of the muse of comedy, Thalia. Lady Hamilton’s repertoire covered a wide range of roles; everything from the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra (69-30 BC) to the Greek mythological goddess Hebe and the personification of Nature.
In point of fact, it was Sir William’s famous collection of ancient artefacts that attracted visitors. Artists from near and far were frequent visitors to the palace. During their stay, however, they often met with the lady’s entertaining performances. She played parts inspired by her husband’s collection of antiquities.