George Romney and His Muse, Lady Emma Hamilton
The English painter George Romney became infatuated with Emma, Lady Hamilton. He depicted Emma dressed in various costumes. If his portraits are truthful, it is easy to see why he was smitten with her. He met her when she was seventeen. He painted over sixty portraits of her in various poses as historical or mythological figures.
Emma Hamilton was born on the 26th of April 1765, nee Amy Lyon, the daughter of a blacksmith who died when Emma was only two months old. Her mother raised her. Emma became a maid in various wealthy homes. She had no formal education. One of her rich patrons changed her name to Emma Hart. When she was seventeen years old she was sent to Naples, Italy by a lover so he could marry a rich woman to replenish his fortune. Emma was sent to his wealthy uncle, Lord Hamilton, so Emma could be hostess to his lavish parties.
George Romney met her in Naples in 1782. Emma designed a mime art show called “Attitudes” where she portrayed famous women such as Cleopatra and her audience was asked to guess who she depicted by studying her postures, dance and acting. This form of charade became a sensation with visitors from across Europe and set off new dance trends and fashion for a draped Grecian style of dress. She got the idea for her theatrics from the various characters Romney asked her to emulate in the portraits he painted.
She married Sir William Hamilton in 1791 when she turned 26; her groom was 60. Emma became a close friend of Queen Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette and wife of Ferdinand I of Naples. In 1793, Carolina introduced her to Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson in 1793 when he arrived in Naples to recruit reinforcements for the English Navy for their battles against the French. Five years later, Nelson returned to Naples as a living legend and hero. He lost an arm and most of his teeth during sea battles and was prone to coughing spells. Emma insisted she could nurse him back to health and he resided with Lord and Lady Hamilton at their palatial home, Palazzo Sessa in Naples.
Emma invited 1,800 guests to Admiral Nelson’s 40th birthday celebration. The Lady and the Admiral were infatuated and produced a love child, Horatia who was born in 1801.Lord and Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson continued to live together, causing a scandal at the time. Emma refused to divorce Lord Hamilton; he died in 1803 of amoebic dysentery shortly after their return to England. The British Admiralty sent Admiral Nelson to sea to try to quieten the scandal. Admiral Nelson died at the naval battle at Trafalgar in 1805. These deaths impoverished Emma. She and her daughter fled to France where, at age 49, she also died of amoebic dysentery, probably contracted in Naples.
Horatia married Reverend Philip Ward and the couple produced ten children.
Read more about these characters of an actual 18th century melodrama at Wikipedia.com. More portraits of Emma by Romney are also viewable. One of my favorite research revelations was that Horatia named one of her sons Marmaduke!