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Oil painting - Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton
  • Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton
    Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807
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Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Naples (painted)

  • Date:

    1796 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland and was seen as a child prodigy. She soon specialised in history and portraits paintings while in Italy (especially Florence, Rome and Naples, Bologna, Parma and Venice) she was influenced by the nascent Neo-classical style. She became a member of the Roman Accademia di San Luca at the age of 23. She arrived in London in June 1766 and remained there for 15 years before moving back to Italy with her second husband the painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1796). In London, she was a founder-member of the Royal Academy. All her life, she enjoyed international patronage such as the family of George III in Britain, Grand Duke Paul and Price Nikolay Yusupov in Russia, Queen Caroline of Naples and Emperor Joseph II of Austria among others. She died in Rome where her funeral was arranged by the Neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

The original and early attribution of the present portrait to A. Kauffmann has been recently discussed by some scholars. The identification of the sitter as Lady Hamilton, based on an inscription in the back, is not either fully satisfying. This painting is however a fine example of neo-classical portraiture, based on the so-called "Vandyke manner" essential to British portrait painting in the age of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.

Physical description

Full length portrait of a woman in classical dress, seated sideways on a Neoclassical chair between two columns.

Place of Origin

Naples (painted)


1796 (painted)


Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'Emma, lady Hamilton. Naples, 1796.'
Inscribed on the back.


Height: 18 in estimate, Width: 13.75 in estimate, :

Object history note

Probably the painting unsold in the George Barker sale, 25 Mar 1875, lot 34; purchased from the art dealer Buttery, 1875.

Historical significance: The attribution of this painting to Angelica Kauffmann has been recently discussed. Although Dr Williamson, a former curator of the V&A, was probably responsible for the original attribution of the picture to Angelica Kauffmann, the painting does not seem to closely correspond to her style. Dr Francoise Forster-Hahn, former curator of the Stanford University Museum of Art, disagreed in fact on this attribution (written communication, Sep. 1973). The Stanford University Museum of Art also owns a portrait said to be of Lady Hamilton as the Comic Muse, which may most likely be by another artist still unidentified. By comparison with another portrait by A. Kauffmann of Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton as Thalia, 1791, private collection and subsequently engraved by Raphael Morgen in the same year (British Museum, London - 1870,0514.1335 and The National Portrait Gallery, London -NPG D19120), the sitter appears here quite different. Although the painting is dated 1796, the sitter appears younger than in the portrait painted by Kauffmann five years earlier.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
Portrait paintings were still fashionable during the following centuries and extended to the rising bourgeoisie and eventually to common people, especially during the social and political transformations of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, painted portraits were challenged and eventually supplanted by the development of new media such as photography.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton', Angelica Kauffman RA, 1796

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Summary Catalogue of British paintings, London, 1973, p. 71.
Jaffé, P. Lady Hamilton : in relation to the art of her time, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1972, p. 55, cat. no. 71.
Tom Pocock, 'Hamilton , Emma, Lady Hamilton (bap. 1765, d. 1815)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12063, accessed 25 March 2011]


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figure, female


Paintings; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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