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Lady Hamilton As "Medea", c. 1786

George Romney
English, 1734-1802
Oil on canvas
29-1/4 x 25-1/4 in. (74.3 x 64.1 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

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Born Amy Lyon in 1765 and daughter of a blacksmith, the refashioned “Emma” Hamilton would become one of the most celebrated personalities of her time. First as mistress and later wife to Sir William Hamilton, the British envoy to Naples, as Lady Hamilton she charmed and entertained guests with her singing and famous “attitudes,” a series of dramatic poses that wordlessly acted out mythological characters. She was also the mistress of Horatio Nelson, the British officer who fought and died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.The auburn-haired beauty was a favorite subject for Romney, who wrote to her in Naples in 1786 that his work on a series of her attitudes was progressing well, especially her re-enactment of Medea, the sorceress and forsaken wife of Jason in the Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts. In his letter, Romney describes the classical picture as one of “Medea with her hair floating in the air.”

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