Not currently on display at the V&A

Fame as an Allegory

Oil Painting
late 18th century-early 19th century (painted)
Place Of Origin

Oil painting

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on panel
Brief Description
Oil painting entitled 'Fame as an Allegory' by Thomas Stothard. Great Britain, ca. late 18th century, early 19th century.
Physical Description
Oil painting
  • Estimate height: 8.5in
  • Estimate width: 6.5in
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Credit line
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857
Object history
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Extract from Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xviii.

John Sheepshanks (1784-1863) was the son of a wealthy cloth manufacturer. He entered the family business, but his early enthusiasms were for gardening and the collecting of Dutch and Flemish prints. He retired from business at the age of 40, by which time he had begun collecting predominantly in the field of modern British art. He told Richard Redgrave RA, then a curator in the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) of his intention to give his collection to the nation. The gallery built to house the collection was the first permanent structure on the V&A site, and all concerned saw the Sheepshanks Gift as forming the nucleus of a National Gallery of British Art. Sheepshanks commissioned works from contemporary artists, bought from the annual RA summer exhibitions, but also bought paintings by artists working before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. The Sheepshanks Gift is the bedrock of the V&A's collection of British oil paintings, and served to encourage many other collectors to make donations and bequests.

Historical significance: Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) was a highly prolific painter, book illustrator and designer. After his father's death in 1770 he began his working life apprenticed to a Huguenot silk weaver. At the completion of his apprenticeship in 1777 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and there struck up life-long friendships with the sculptor John Flaxman and with William Blake. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1778 until his death in 1834, and from 1778 also began to produce illustrations for various publishers and magazines such as the Ladies' Magazine. He sometimes exhibited the original designs for such illustrations at the Royal Academy exhibitions. In his day he was highly respected as a history painter in oil, but the V&A collections of drawings and watercolours reflect his reputation during the 19th century predominantly as an illustrator, as well as a designer of a multitude of objects such as silver salvers to funerary monuments. As the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Stothard took 'advantage of the opportunities afforded by publishing and the industrial arts, while maintaining a reputation in the more respectable reaches of high art'. For example Stothard exhibited works on a grander scale than was his norm for Bowyer's 'Historic Gallery' (1790-1806). But many of the oils now in the V&A are on a modest scale and are perhaps designs for printed illustrations, rather than 'finished' history paintings. Stothard played a respected part in the art world of his day, and from 1812 until his death at the age of seventy-nine he held the post of librarian of the Royal Academy.

This small oil painting has been described as Fame as an Allegory. It depicts a seated female figure in classical-style costume, with three winged putti flying among clouds above her head, blowing soap-bubbles. The woman appears to be holding a short thin trumpet, and it is undoubtedly this that has led to her description as Fame. The personification of Fame as a female figure was known in antiquity, although in antiquity she was not depicted holding a trumpet. This became her invariable attribute from the Renaissance onwards. The trumpet is usually extremely long, straight and slender. The trumpet depicted by Stothard is much shorter than is normal in Renaissance Italian paintings, and is perhaps based on a kind of trumpet probably familiar to Stothard's late 18th century audience; the so called "speaking trumpet". This was an instrument shaped rather like a short, straight trumpet and was designed to carry the voice to a great distance, or to allow it to be heard above loud noises, or to magnify the voice for those who were hard of hearing. They were primarily used at sea, but it seems likely that a speaking trumpet would have conveyed to Stothard's contemporaries the idea of loudly proclaiming fame. Putti or infants blowing soap-bubbles symbolize the brevity of life, and make a telling contrast to the concept of Fame.

As with many of Stothard's small oil paintings, it is unclear whether this is a sketch for a printed illustration or is a finished oil intended primarily for display and sale.
Subjects depicted
Accession Number

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record createdApril 4, 2007
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