Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Emma Lady Hamilton as Miranda (1761 - 1815) 1780c.

George Romney (1734-1802)

Emma Lady Hamilton as Miranda (1761 - 1815), George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
19 x 16 inches 48.3 x 40.7 cm
Given by the artist to his friend, the poet William Hayley (1745-1829) who bequeathed it to the sculptor John Flaxman (1755-1826). Engraved by Caroline Watson, stipple, 7 1/4 x 7, 1809, and C. Tomkins, mezzotint, 7 5/8 x 9, 1897
William Hayley, ''The Life of George Romney Esq.'' 1809, pg.141 Humphry Ward and W. Roberts, ''Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonnee of his work'' 1904, vol. 2 pg.184.
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In this vivacious sketch - a more fully worked-up version of a subject the artist painted several times (eg ex-Historical Portraits) Romney casts his principal model and muse, Emma Hamilton as Miranda, the heroine of Shakespeare's ''The Tempest''. Taken from act 1 Scene 2, Miranda pleads with her father Prospero to spare the lives of Ferdinand and his crew who have been marooned on the island by the storm that he has raised:

Miranda: Sir, have pity
I''ll be his surety.

Romney executed a number of studies and worked on a variety of compositions taken from ''The Tempest'' with a view to making a large scale painting intended for Boydell''s Shakespeare Gallery. Emma posed as Miranda for a series of oil studies, each one taking her character's desperation further towards the desired passion and pathos.

Romney first met Emma Hart early in 1782 when her lover George Greville (1749-1809) brought her to the artist's studio. As Romney's model she found an outlet for her histrionic abilities that resulted in one of the most famous and fruitful partnerships in English portraiture. The artist seized upon Emma's natural beauty and talent for role-play and painted her obsessively in various allegorical and classical guises for the next four years.

By 1786 the impoverished George Greville sent Emma to Naples in order to look after his elderly uncle Sir William Hamilton, ambassador to the court of Naples. Romney was greatly upset by her departure and threw himself into the Boydell Scheme, translating the sketches of Emma into the required Shakespearian mould. Emma, meanwhile, was taken in first as a mistress and then as a wife to Sir William, but upon meeting Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1798, she started an affair that lasted until Nelson's death at Trafalgar in 1805.
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