Saturday, December 24, 2016


    Prior to reading this fascinating account of the life of Emma Hamilton my small knowledge of her placed her as a secondary figure - muse to the famous English painter George Romney and British naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson’s mistress.  I saw her as always on the sidelines - not so!  Thanks to Dr. Quintin Colville, Curator of Naval
History at the National Maritime Museumin Greenwich, London, and Kate Williams, Professor of History at the University of Reading and author of “The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton” this remarkable woman stands alone in her moments of glory and time of destitution.  Her achievements are even more amazing when one considers the time in which she lived.

    Born into a less than humble family Emma’s childhood was spent in prostitution.  Nevertheless, as she grew her beauty and ambition were not to be denied.  Her rise began when she became the model for George Romney who painted her in different guises, each pose reflecting her preternatural beauty.  (Fortunately for us this volume holds
225 illustrations - perhaps his most famous portrait of Emma grace’s the book’s cover.)  She was introduced to British aristocracy as  Romney’s mistress.  Before long she married Sir William Hamilton, the British envoy to Naples, which solidified her place in society.   Always restless Emma was eager to better herself  so she studied the classics, languages and singing.  This enabled her to create and present her “Attitudes,” an expression of performance art that was very well received.
    As she was garnering praise for her “Attitudes’ Lord Nelson came to Naples after his victory at the Battle of the Nile, and the two met.  Apologies for saying the rest is history.  Her time with Nelson is recounted as is her loss of fortune following his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, It would seem she had risen only to fall again.  To say she was a remarkable woman is an understatement as she accomplished what other women could not possibly do in that day and time - for this and more she is remembered.

    Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity is a beautiful volume, so richly illustrated that one turns to it again and again.  It is published to coincide with a major exhibition at London’s Maritime Museum.


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