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Emma, Lady Hamilton: Fêted or fated by Regency public opinion? The perception of class and women seen through two contrasting images by Heather M Adams

Abstract: Emma , Lady Hamilton (1765-1815), was one of the most famous and infamous of women when she arrived back in London from Naples with her husband, Sir William Hamilton, and her lover, Admiral Lord Nelson. The year was 1800, a time when the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were the backdrop to everyday life, regardless of age, gender or class. This paper looks at two images of Emma; the first is a satirical cartoon, Dido in Despair!, published in 1801, by James Gillray (1765-1815), the ‘prince of caricaturists’. This hostile print portrays Emma bereft of her lover. Like the Turner prize-winning work My Bed by Tracey Emin, it is a portrait of a woman at a ‘time of emotional trauma’. The second image is a more refined representation of Emma as Britannia, enamelled onto a Nelson memorial plate in 1805 by the Baxter enamelling studio, ‘the leading establishment of its day’. The plate shows Britannia/Emma proprietorially shielding Nelson within her cape, surrounded by scenes from his heroic achievements. This paper will assess how these images of Emma comment on the anxiety surrounding war and class in Regency Britain.

Date created: 
Monday, June 6, 2022
Attribution for this resource:
Emma, Lady Hamilton: Fêted or fated by Regency public opinion? The perception of class and women seen through two contrasting images by Heather M Adams, All rights reserved.
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