Podcast 8: Emma Hamilton and her ‘Attitudes’

This week we were joined by Dr Helen Slaney, who talked to us about Emma Hamilton (1765-1815). You can listen here:

While living in Naples with her husband, William, Emma Hamilton developed a series of classical poses known as her ‘Attitudes’, in imitation of poses she had seen on the vases collected by her husband. Helen has kindly shared some images of Emma Hamilton from her research with us.

Here is Emma as a young woman, painted by George Romney:


George Romney, Emma Hart in a Straw Hat, c.1782-4, Huntington Library

Romney painted Emma as a number of classical figures:


Emma Hamilton as Circe, by George Romney, c.1782, Waddesdon Manor


Emma Hamilton as Medea, by George Romney, 1786, Norton Simon Museum


Emma as a Bacchante, by George Romney, c.1785

While living in Naples with William Hamilton, Emma had access to his extensive collection of antiquities. Here she is shown attending the opening of a tomb in Nola:

Emma Hamilton at Nola.png

Frontispiece to Tischbein, Collection of Engravings vol. 1 (1791)

Her attitudes were modelled on the poses she saw in Hamilton’s collection. Here is an image from Pierre François Hugues d’Hancarville’s catalogue of William Hamilton’s paintings:


D’Hancarville, vol.4 pl.107

And here is a drawing of Emma in one of the Attitudes:


Tischbein, vol.1 pl.51

Helen told us that Emma sometimes worried Sir William by making the vases themselves part of her performance:


Rehberg pl.5, Emma as Danaid

Another image from D’Hancarville’s catalogue:


D’Hancarville, vol.4, pl.83

And Emma as Terpsichore, the muse of dance:


Rehberg, pl.6, Emma as Terpsichore

You can read more about the life of Emma Hamilton on the website of the National Portrait Gallery, here. You can see Rehberg’s sketches of Emma in the Attitudes on the website of the British Museum, here.

And don’t forget to look out for Helen’s forthcoming book on eighteenth-century receptions of classical material culture!



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