Pantomime, Connoisseurship, Consumption: Emma Hamilton and the Politics
Pygmalion's Galatea, whom he had fashioned exactly after his dreams, endowing
her with as much reality and existence as an artist can, finally came
up to him and said, "here I am," how different was the living
woman from the scupltured stone.
- In his introduction to the Oxford edition of Corinne, John
Claiborne Isbell writes that Germaine De Stael had Emma Hamilton in
mind when composing her heroine's narrative.
Chloe Chard also brings Corinne and Emma Hamilton together as comparative
Italian tourist sites. For Chard,
De Stael's heroine and Emma Hamilton can apparently both be read in
terms of the ways in which they as women represent the warm south's
spectacular fascination; how they unite notions of the natural with
theatricality; and how they themselves embody a culture of fashionable
travel, dilettantism, imperial desire, sexual excess and a particular
acquisitive fantasy of the past. Suggestive as Chard's reading is, there
are important differences between De Stael's genius-heroine (a figure
whose intellect and independence stimulate her creativity) and the notorious
society beauty whose "attitudes" animated audiences across
Europe. Corinne, as other essays in this issue point out, offers
a deeply critical account of the notions of gender which inhibit and
ultimately destroy its heroine. In fact, Corinne might be read
as a critique of, rather than a parallel to, the feminine stereotypes
that Emma Hamilton was so often said to embody. This essay might be
read, then, as a further exploration of the critical account De Stael's
novel offers of such stereotypes, and particularly the turn-of-the-Nineteenth-Century
idea of femininity as performance, pantomime and picturesque display.
- "The prospect of possessing so delightful an object under my
roof," Sir William Hamilton wrote to his nephew Charles Greville
on the 25th April, 1786, "certainly causes in me some pleasing
sensations."  The object
in question was Emma Hart: artist's model, Greville's mistress and the
latest addition to Sir William's collection of curiosities. Hart had
travelled from London to Naples under the impression she was to spend
a six-month sojourn in the Italian south. In fact, she was the principle
article of exchange in a complex bargain between uncle and nephew. Greville
secured the freedom to make a good marriage and was reassured of his
status as his uncle's beneficiary. In return, Sir William received a
woman reputed to possess the face of a goddess and the figure of a statue.
Hart's beauty was already celebrated in a series of portraits by Romney
and Reynolds, and Hamilton found in her a modern embodiment of antique
femininity, the final focus of his dilettantism. "There is two
painters now in the house painting me," Hart wrote to Greville
three months after her arrival in Naples, "as soon as these is
finished ther is two more to paint me & Angeleca if she comes &
Marchmont is to cut a head of me for a ring."
Over the decade that followed, Hamilton saw the features of his future
wife fixed and rendered in pencil, oil and charcoal, in chalcedony and
cornelian. But what spread Emma Hart's fame far beyond the walls of
Sir William's connoisseur's cabinet was her pantomimic impersonation
of a range of classical and contemporary feminine figures-her "attitudes."
- By the time Emma Hart became Emma Hamilton she was, in effect, one
of the major tourist attractions of the late eighteenth century.
As the next stop after Pompei and the Villa Borghese, painters, poets
and visitors completing their classical education on the continent gathered
at Sir William's Neapolitan villa to witness her attitudes. In this
tableau vivant, marble appeared to be transformed into flesh
as artworks were reinterpreted through performance and process.
Statues and paintings were briefly brought to life as Hamilton cited
the characteristics of saints, goddesses, nymphs and sentimental heroines
through arrested postures, swift bodily movement and the skilful manipulation
of the two or three Indian shawls which constituted her drapery. With
her spectators assembled, Hamilton, dressed in a simple chiton, crouched
at one end of the room enveloped and concealed beneath her shawls. Then,
rising and raising her drapery in much the same way as the sheet would
be removed from a piece of statuary, she appeared before her audience,
revealing a recognisable character before swiftly changing position
to embody another figure. Most accounts of the attitudes suggest it
was Hamilton's ability to shift between a range of characters, passions
and expressions in a short space of time which was the most striking
part of the display. Goethe's comments are probably the most famous.
William Hamilton, who is living here as English Ambassador, has now,
after many years of devotion to the arts and the study of nature,
found the acme of these delights in the person of an English girl
of twenty with a beautiful face and a perfect figure. He has had a
Greek costume made for her which becomes her extremely. Dressed in
this, she lets down her hair and, with a few shawls, gives so much
variety to her poses, gestures expressions &c that the spectator
can hardly believe his eyes. He sees what thousands of artists would
have liked to express realised before him in movements and surprising
transformations, standing, kneeling, sitting, reclining, serious,
sad, playful, ecstatic, contrite, alluring, threatening, anxious,
one pose follows another without a break. She knows how to arrange
the folds of her veil to match each mood and has a hundred ways of
turning it into a headdress. The old knight idolises her and is enthusiastic
about everything she does. In her, he has found all the antiquities,
all the profiles of Sicilian coins, even the Apollo Belvedere. This
much is certain: as a performance it's like nothing you ever saw before
in your life.
The attitudes are
frequently described as a sequence of discrete characters and their
appropriate passions, yet here, Hamilton's individual poses seem less
important than the effect produced by the performance as a whole.
Its her mercuriality and her kaleidoscopic display of gesture and
expression which render Goethe almost unable to believe his eyes.
Both artwork and performer, Hamilton's proliferating femininities
afford him the fantasy of a nameless, perpetual desire. His excitement
is captured in the rapt catalogue of her multiple states, her shifting
moods, her "surprising transformations". There's no mention
of the end of the performance and it's as if Hamilton just goes on
becoming without ever being. The attitudes are framed at the beginning
and end of this passage by the aging gentleman connoisseur, Sir William
Hamilton. His are, apparently, the libidinised pleasures of a Pygmalion
regarding his Galetea realised. This living statue seems the last
and best of his collection. Her performance functions as a final consummation
of his tasteful connoisseurship, as a lifetime's knowledge of nature,
art and antiquity is enacted before his eyes.
- In the few critical readings of Hamilton's attitudes that currently
exist, the elements of movement and variability, so central to Goethe's
account of the performance, are generally overlooked in favour of discussion
of the individual figures she embodied. Volker Schachenmayr, for example,
regards the attitudes as "essentially static" and suggests
that Hamilton's "function in Sir. William's household was consistently
to alternate between her physical presence and her easy transition into
a static, pictorial space."
Similarly, in his comments on the attitudes, Richard Wendorf reads Hamilton's
performance through the isolated identification of the singular passions
and physiognomy associated with each character she personified.
The tendency is to interpret the attitudes as a sequence of fixed poses-a
gallery of identifiable statues that live and breathe but do not disturb
the spectator too much with their mutability, their mobility. This perception
is perhaps reinforced by Frederick Rehberg's famous drawings of the
attitudes, first published in 1794. Rehberg's series of stationary Hamiltons
has (no doubt intentionally) the fixed, two-dimensional qualities of
the Etruscan bas-reliefs and vase paintings in her husband's collection.
A second, widely held misconception is that Hamilton's attitudes took
their exclusive inspiration from the goddesses of antiquity and their
famous representations in the sculpture galleries of Rome, Venice and
Naples. In fact, out of the twelve figures named in an early nineteenth-century
edition of the Rehberg series, only five are identified as recognisable
classical heroines. That
Hamilton's features and physique appeared to invite comparisons with
those of the marble goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome there can be
no doubt. Indeed, her husband actively encouraged such comparisons through
his direction of her performances and his patronage of the artists that
painted her. But Pygmalion and his gallery of living statues are only
part of the story. In Goethe's account, Hamilton is not simply poised
on the cusp between marble and flesh but is forever vacillating between
a host of available classical and contemporary femininities. It is,
perhaps, this sense of interminable variety-the speed of Hamilton's
transformations and her medley of women from all ages, cultures and
traditions-that provides the key to understanding her pantomimic display
in its particular historical context.
- What's intriguing about Hamilton's attitudes in contemporary accounts,
I think, is the way they often seem to defy or exceed their audience's
expectations. Despite her viewers' manifest desire to see the rectitude
of their judgement and the superiority of their taste reconfirmed in
their recognition of each of Hamilton's impersonated heroines, the voices
of many commentators on the attitudes are characterised by their disagreement
and confusion. This confusion concerns the ways of ascribing meaning
to the figures Hamilton embodied, thereby making sense of the performance
as a whole. As Goethe's bewildered list of the verbs the attitudes invoke
is enclosed by the figure of the connoisseur who controls and fixes
their significance, so other spectators produced other stories, other
frames to define and contain Hamilton's performance. In what follows,
I examine the gendered and cultural implications of Emma Hamilton's
mobile gallery of statues through three interrelated contextual frames.
First, I examine contemporary debates on connoisseurship, polite taste
and masculine spectatorship. Next, I explore how that notion of a feminised
variety which the attitudes exemplify received articulation in late
eighteenth-century theories of the picturesque. Finally, I look at the
debate on femininity and consumption in the 1790s, for it is in the
pages of the new style magazines and their discussions of fashionable
femininity that Hamilton's attitudes are perhaps most clearly imbricated
with the modernity of the culture which produced them.
I: A Living Statue
- Late in 1791, Pietro Novelli, a Venitian artist, witnessed and produced
a fascinating series of drawings of Hamilton and her attitudes.
His eight Hamiltons, with their adumbrated limbs and hair, their blurred
lines and hazy shifts of light and shade, are figures caught by chance
in motion rather than one fixed and posed for an artist's sitting. Unlike
the Rehberg series, Novelli's drawing captures that sense of surprise
and rapid transformation remarked upon by most of the attitudes' spectators.
Rather than imitating a series of static bas-reliefs or statues, Hamilton
is engaged here in a mobile performative process.
While Novelli's drawing conveys the protean nature of the attitudes,
it also discloses a visual story through which the spectator comprehends
and connects its series of figures. The narrative continuity of her
personifications is provided by the fluidity of bodily movement through
which each figure is linked to its successor. Hamilton appears, through
the use of her hair, drapery, countenance and gesture, to create a complete
sequence which runs from the imposing figure of terror on the top left
to the embodiment of indolence and satiety on the bottom right. This
narrative of the passions follows the gradations of her body from the
upright posture of tragic nobility to the reclining sensuousness of
a bacchante. As the eye moves from one consecutive figure to the next,
it produces a series of relations which binds these disparate feminine
prototypes and the passions which they represent together. Novelli's
narrative of the attitudes, then, is one which concerns the consummate
grace of the female body in motion. Clearly too, it's a narrative about
the progressive eroticisation of the feminine, as Hamilton begins in
a state of classical imperturbability and ends in one of virtual undress.
- Novelli produces a visual structure for making sense of the attitudes.
But what, in the end, does this structure render comprehensible, and
what does it disguise in its attempt at so doing? As I have already
noted, in her attitudes, Hamilton embodied a proliferation of characters
from different narrative traditions. In Novelli's drawing, these disparate
figures are linked only by the arbitrary contiguity of Hamilton's graceful
movement. The kneeling figure, for example, seems part of a fascinated
Catholic or gothic vocabulary; the enraptured saint belongs to the Biblical
sublime; the Roman matron inhabits the language of virtue and republican
patriotism; the bacchante is associated with the pastoral or erotic;
and the grieving figure clasping the ashes of her lover is firmly situated
within the idiom of late eighteenth-century sentimentality. The attitudes
present generic and cultural variety, lifting a range of femininities
out of their original narrative contexts and historical traditions.
Hamilton could, as many spectators commented, be Greek, Egyptian, Catholic,
pagan, tragic, epic, sentimental, pastoral, all in a matter of minutes.
Hamilton's attitudes partially disguised, or rather appeared to render
the disparate contextual provenances of their heroines unimportant,
concealing their non-unitary nature through the narrative contiguity
of feminine display.
- The attitudes' double effect of physical continuity and narrative
contiguity is neatly captured in Carlo Gastone's representative response
to the performance. "I have never," he writes:
seen anything more fluid and graceful, more sublime and heroic;
the English Apasia knows very well how to assume every part; thus,
at one moment I was admiring her in the constancy of Sophonisba in
taking the cup of poison
at another, the desperation of Gabriella
de Vergy on discovering the heart of her warrior lover still beating
in the fatal vase; afterwards, changing enance at a stroke, she fled,
like the Virgillian Galatea who wishes to be seen among the willow
after she has thrown the apple to the shepherd; or else she cast herself
down like a drunken bacchante, extending an arm to a lewd satyr
imitated to perfection now the Medusa of Rondaninni and of Strozzi,
now the Marys at the Sepulchre of Annibale Carraci.
Gastone remarks on
the attitudes' fluidity, inferring that the series of personifications
is united by the sensuous grace of the performance, by Hamilton's
corporeal narrative harmony. Yet, as he gravitates toward description
of the individual figures, he is only able to provide a sense of their
situatedness within their own singular narrative structures rather
than illustrate their sequential relation to one another. Each figure
has its own narrative history which Gastone imaginatively reconstructs.
Hamilton's attitudes afford the gentleman viewer the pleasures of
contemplation and conjecture. Their function here is to remind the
man of taste of his capacity to appreciate the aesthetics of the feminine,
to enjoy what is beautiful and pleasing, as well as to reaffirm him
of his ability to assign meaning and value to the figures he's seeing
- Yet far from providing a conclusive resolution to the performance,
Gastone's extrapolation of the micro-narratives of each of Hamilton's
heroines could seem partial, idiosyncratic or equivocal. For example,
the attitude he identifies as Gabriella de Vergy is probably that more
usually associated with the figure of Agrippina weeping over the ashes
of Germanicus. Rezonnico's
Rondaninni Medusa might have been another's Medea, his Madonna someone
else's Santa Rosa. In fact, while it is often assumed that the attitudes
produce a sort of cultural consensus among their spectators-uniting
an audience through their collective recognition of the various figures
Hamilton embodied-there is actually a remarkable degree of uncertainty
regarding exactly who she might be at any one time. Hamilton's attitudes
were not, then, a cultural quiz to which there was one right answer,
but a series of transferable feminine types available to be arrogated
to their spectator's particular context of connoisseurship.
There is no totalising narrative defining or connecting her sequence
of saints, goddesses, nymphs and sentimental heroines. There is no narrative
because there is no singular explanatory framework capable of containing
the representation of the various figures she enacts. However, the promise
of narrative unity is offered to the viewer by Hamilton's graceful physical
teleology, just as the promise of believing that one always knows what
one sees is held out in the attitudes' invitation to recognise a particular
representation in one of its disparate feminine types.
- Hamilton's attitudes-their particular solicitation of recognition
and response; their evident sensuousness; their lack of narrative connection
and their narrative similitude-should be understood within the context
of the cultures of connoisseurship and consumption of the late eighteenth
century. For a large part of that century, a predominant discourse of
taste, judgement, and the masculine subjects capable of exercising them,
had been one that stressed the values of restraint and rationality and
the virtues of generalising. Through his capacity to extrapolate meaningful
unity from particulars and through his denial of the erotic or arousing
elements of the aesthetic the polite masculine spectator might see his
identity reconfirmed in a shared republic of taste.
But the notional spectator solicited by Hamilton's attitudes is characterised
by his partiality and his sensuality. He produces his own micro-narratives
for each feminine type. He assigns them provisional rather than conclusive
value. He appreciates the spectacle of the female body in motion. He
has the leisure and possesses the means to acquire and accumulate disparate
cultural referents through education, travel and connoisseurship. His
tastes are varied and various, his pleasures apparently indiscriminate.
His is an aesthetic caprice perhaps appropriate to the polite social
milieu of expatriate Italy with its leisured tourists, artists and dilletantes,
its culture of excavation, consumption and collection, and its despoiled
II: Connoisseurship and Curiosity
- In his Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste of 1790,
Archibald Alison argues that rude or less cultivated societies tended
to favour the qualities of uniformity, closure and cohesiveness in the
arts, whereas "the great characteristic of the taste of polished
ages" is the appreciation of the diverse, multiple and discontinuous.
"The love of variety," he writes, "distinguish[es] the
periods of cultivation and refinement." According
to Alison, a connoisseur receives pleasure and extends his taste and
judgement through the appreciation of varied aesthetic objects whose
primary relation is one of juxtaposition or contiguity. Objects agreeable
to modern taste "first affect the mind with an emotion of surprise"
and "produce afterwards an increased or additional train of imagery."
This process of contemplation, response, and reflection is remarkably
similar to the reported effects of Hamilton's attitudes on their audience.
For Alison, the exemplar of modern taste is found in the figure of the
connoisseur, "in his cabinet, surrounded by the relics of former
ages." The connoisseur's primary aesthetic impulses are inquisitive
and acquisitive. He receives pleasure from curious objects and his own
curiosity-collecting diverse articles of interest, amalgamating aesthetic
variety, allowing his imagination free rein. His acquisitions afford
him, writes Alison, "a thousand sources of imagery
inexhaustible field in which his fancy may expatiate."
- In Goethe's Italienische Reise, Sir William Hamilton is described
as a figure whose aesthetic appreciation is based primarily on these
values of variety, curiosity and contiguity. Goethe visits "Sir
William's secret treasure vault",
was crammed with works of art and junk, all in the greatest confusion.
Oddments from every period, busts, torsos, vases, bronzes, decorative
implements of all kinds made of Scicilian agate, carvings, paintings
and chance bargains of every sort, lay about all higgledy-piggledy.
There was even a small chapel. Out of curiosity, I lifted the lid
of a long case which lay on the floor and in it were two magnificent
candelabra. I nudged Hackert and asked him in a whisper if they were
not very like the candelabra in the Portici museum. He silenced me
with a look. No doubt they somehow strayed here from the cellars of
of the connoisseur and his collection is interestingly related to
some earlier remarks in the Italienische Reise on the Villa
Pallagonia. As Sir William's vault is characterised by its disorganised
confusion, so the overriding effect of the Villa's collection is one
of bewildering multiplicity. The courtyard is filled with "figures
multiplied ad infinitum, designed without rhyme or reason,
combined without discrimination or point, pedestals and monstrosities
in one unending row." With consternation Goethe notes that:
Oddly scrolled marble urns, inherited from the owner's father, and
dwarfs and freaks of a later date, lay higgledy-piggledy, waiting
to be found their right place. In addition [to their being] an arbour,
crammed with antique vases and stone scrolls of various shapes
inside the door one is confronted by the laurel wreathed head of a
Roman emperor on the body of a dwarf who sits on a dolphin.
According to Goethe,
this collection of objects is "not the product of calculation
or even of caprice; they are merely accidental jumbles."
- What is intriguing about Goethe's response to the collections of Sir
William Hamilton and Prince Pallagonia is the discursive proximity it
reveals of a taste that he quite evidently regards as perverted and
one that he is prepared to accept as judicious. Goethe describes Pallagonia
as a "lunatic" with a "passion for
His dilletantism is apparently equivalent to the deformity of the objects
displayed in and about his villa. Conversely, Sir William's taste is
described throughout the Italienische Reise as prudent and sagacious.
But what draws the two men together is the confused and indiscriminate
natures of their respective collections. As the figures of the Roman
emperor and the dwarf are rendered meaningless through their absurd
juxtaposition, so Sir William's vault is a space where art seems indistinguishable
from junk, where a chapel is reduced to the status of a chance bargain.
Like Hamilton's attitudes, the objects of the Sicilian eccentric and
the English connoisseur all originate from disparate contexts, styles
and historical periods-they have no logical connection to each other
save that of their being collected together. Both collections are finally
characterised in Goethe's descriptions by their contiguity and discontinuity,
their almost incomprehensible variety.
- What Goethe calls Pallagonia's "madness" might, in a sense,
excuse the grotesque nonsense of his villa. His groups of figures and
objects are described as "accidental jumbles" without intent
or purpose, the creations of an eccentric mind and its diminished responsibility.
For Goethe, then, Sir William's collection of objects is perhaps the
product of the caprice or the calculation that the lunatic prince in
his folly lacks. Carefully selected and acquired, the collection carries
aesthetic value for Goethe despite its disorganised variousness and
thus retains the capacity to inspire curiosity rather than disgust.
Sir William's collection is gathered to the purpose of producing appreciative
pleasure in himself and other connoisseurs. Yet this intentional relation
between owner and possession, between the connoisseur and the objects
through which he defines and expresses himself, could perhaps be read
the other way. Just as the Prince's lunacy seems, in Goethe's account,
almost a result of the absorption and dispersal of his identity in his
disparate possessions, might not Sir William's indiscriminate hoarding
and the desires and pleasures of obsessive acquisition suggest an identity
as various and dissipated as the objects in his collection?
The dissipation of the modern connoisseur was the stock in trade of
British satirists. In John Wolcot's Lyric Epistle to Sir William
Hamilton, the connoisseur is advised to,
not a dust-hole unexplor'd;
Something shall rise to be ador'd-
Old mats, old dish-clouts, dripping pans and spits,
Would prove delectable to other wits;
Gods legs, and legs of old joint stools,
Would ravish all our antiquarian schools.
appears mere aesthetic caprice, a curiosity with no meaningful content.
It is also available to be pilloried because of the nature of the
pleasures it apparently affords. The terms Wolcot uses to describe
the connoisseur's enjoyment of his objects (ador'd, delectable, ravish)
intimate a taste as sensuous as it is indiscriminate. Sir William's
ruling passion, his desire to acquire and appreciate antique junk,
is represented here as a luxuriant perversion.
- In my discussion of Gastone's account of the attitudes, I noted three
key responses Emma Hamilton elicited from her spectators. The initial
effect was surprise or astonishment at the speed of the display and
the sheer variety of her personifications. This was linked to the sensuous
enjoyment of the performance, followed by imaginative conjecture as
to the meanings of the range of figures embodied. Emptying her characters
of their narrative connectedness, and obliterating the sense that these
personifications could have any continuous purpose other than that of
display, Emma Hamilton enacted the aesthetic of the connoisseur's cabinet.
In a similar manner to Sir William's vault of hoarded objects, the pleasures
the attitudes afforded were those of variety, curiosity and juxtaposition.
Unlike the collections of the Villa Pallagonia where figures were grotesque
and their relations nonsensical, the attitudes allowed their spectators
the tasteful indulgence of the production of provisional narratives
and meanings. Hamilton's attitudes addressed themselves to the pleasures
and predilections of the modern connoisseur. They spoke to a taste that
was polite and cultured but plural and dissipated-with all the implications
of that word as atomisation and excess.
- The connoisseur was represented in the late eighteenth century as
a figure both antiquated and modern. He seemed antiquated because his
interests were still primarily associated with patrician wealth and
the leisure age afforded and also because, in the many satires in which
he was lampooned, his obsessions and possessions were represented as
a preterite substitute for a lost virility. Yet he appeared modern in
the very nature of his desire to amalgamate and possess as well as in
the indiscriminate variety of the objects through which his identity
was defined. The connoisseur's plural tastes were in fact the signature
of his modernity. For the story of the progressive refinement of society
was, to its eighteenth-century tellers, also a story of the loss of
the uniform and the cohesive (in taste as much as in the political public
sphere and the marketplace) and their replacement with an atomised diversity.
As one characteristically glum antiquarian put it, comparing the tastes
of former centuries with those of "the modern age" was like
comparing "a landscape of a bold and massive taste of composition
whole simple and harmonious" with "a scene flittered into
a multiplicity of luminous spots and gaudy without effect."
- The burden of my argument thus far has been to stress the way that
Hamilton's attitudes solicited the gaze of a particular masculine spectator:
a spectator defined by his position as a man of wealth, leisure and
learning, by his polite and promiscuous tastes, and by his appreciation
of the variety and sensuality of her display. I now want to move on
to consider how these ways of ascribing meaning to the attitudes were
also bound up with the wider cultural representation and implications
of a certain type of femininity. I suggest that the feminine meanings
of Hamilton's attitudes are best understood in terms of that rag-bag
of idioms and vocabularies that go under the name of the picturesque.
For the picturesque is defined by its prioritising of the various over
the uniform and by its hostility to narrative continuity and completion.
As Stephen Copley and Peter Garside note, the picturesque "rest[s]
on the suppression of the interpretive and narrative signs which marked
The picturesque is one of the defining if problematically definable
vocabularies of the turn of the nineteenth century and it is precisely
in the account it articulates of a femininity that is both antique and
modern, both entirely natural and thoroughly cultivated, that renders
it such an important contextual frame for Emma Hamilton's attitudes.
III : Picturesque Femininity
- While commentators might have disagreed about the identities of the
female figures embodied in the attitudes, there is a remarkable degree
of unanimity in their accounts of Hamilton's appearance. Almost everyone
who saw and wrote about the attitudes concurred that there was a startling
disparity between her demeanour and apparel in and out of the performance.
The adjectives most frequently used to describe Hamilton's appearance
during the attitudes are "easy", "graceful", "negligent",
"natural" "simple" and "effortless" while
that repeatedly used for a non-attitudinising Hamilton was "vulgar."
Choosing just one of countless examples, Mrs St. George wrote that the
Hamilton was "graceful and beautiful" in performance, but
followed this with the remark that "it is singular that in spite
of the accuracy of her imitation of the finest ancient draperies, her
usual dress is tasteless, loaded, vulgar and unbecoming."
Hamilton's plainness, simplicity and grace
during her performance was somehow regarded by her audience as the natural
corollary of polite taste, whereas her preference for ornament, detail
and colour in her everyday appearance was consistently rendered equivalent
to her "vulgar" class and courtesan status. What most spectators
found appealing about the attitudinising Hamilton was that she appeared
classical, timeless, simple and natural. The primary effect of the attitudes
was, as I have noted, that of a confusing variety, but this was enacted
by a figure noted for her simple appearance and her natural ease. It
is in this combination of variety and mutability with naturalness and
simplicity that Hamilton's attitudes were picturesque.
- In late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century picturesque writings,
variety and profusion are associated with the boundless abundance of
nature and with a notion of culture that is both modern and feminised
in its whimsical mutability, its rapid changes, its discontinuity. It
is noticeable in a number of theories of the picturesque that nature
and culture are conflated in the figure of the endlessly various female-a
figure who is frequently explicitly described as a living statue. In
William Gilpin's 1794 poem On Landscape Painting, for example,
Nature's inexhaustible variety is described in terms of a female body
which vacillates between flesh and marble. Gilpin advises the landscape
painter to view nature's "varied range"
as the sculptur'd charms
Of the fam'd Venus grew, so must thou cull
From various scenes such parts as best create
One perfect whole. If Nature ne'er array'd
Her most accomplish'd work with grace compleat,
Think, will she waste on desert rocks and dells,
What she denies to Woman's charming form?
Gilpin refers to
the famous story of Zeuxis and the women of Crotona-a story central
to many eighteenth-century theories of artistic production and represented,
for example, in Angelica Kauffman's famous painting.
In order to avoid the slavish imitation of nature by copying the physique
and features of a single female model with all her necessary imperfections,
Zeuxis organised a beauty parade of all the women of Crotona in order
to select from among them the most graceful limbs, the most faultless
breast, the most exquisite face which collectively might produce a
figure of feminine perfection.
- Gilpin instructs the landscape painter to select judiciously, as Zeuxis
did, in order to create a cohesive whole from Nature's varied partiality.
But his verse also conveys a strong sense of the aesthetic and erotic
pleasure afforded by the mercurial incompleteness of the natural scene
and the female body. Thus,
the illusory whole produced by Zeuxis' selection of body parts and the
landscape painter's choice of natural objects which might unify and
balance his canvas seem, in the poem, almost an afterthought. Unity
and totality simply do not carry the same energy or the same sensuous
pleasures as the discontinuity which femininity here represents. Gilpin's
ideal landscape, then, would be one which, as far as possible, simulated
a feminine figure who, while offering the promise of the abstract perfection
of marble, can only dramatise a naturalised mutable variety.
- The figure of the living statue assumed a singular significance in
the work of Richard Payne Knight.
He was extremely struck by Hamilton's attitudes after seeing them in
1791 and often seems to have her in mind in his writings on the picturesque.
Payne Knight argued that "change and variety" were "necessary
to the enjoyment of all pleasure, whether sensual or intellectual."
Yet while his theory of the picturesque is predicated upon a notion
of variety he also wishes to preserve a sense of the classical and universal.
For him, the classical seems to act, as it were, as the solid ground
upon which a variety of picturesque objects shift and change. It follows,
then, that Payne Knight finds a living, moving piece of statuary picturesque:
a figure which appears to position itself upon the ground of classic
universality even as it, through its movement and gesture, produces
the variety necessary to all pleasure. Taking the story of Zeuxis up
where Gilpin left off, in his poem The Landscape, Payne Knight
describes how the inspiration of the best antique sculptors came from
a range of "breathing figures light and free" rather than
"one single model stiffly bound."
In a later text, these breathing figures appear again in his description
of the picturesque variability of a modern woman dressed as an antique
statue. In an intriguing passage Payne Knight avers that
The dirty and tattered garments, the dishevelled hair and general
wild appearance of gypsies and beggar girls are often picturesque-but
the flowing ringlets, fine shawls and robes of delicate muslin thrown
into all the easy, negligent and playful folds of antique drapery
by polished grace and refined elegance, are still more so. The first,
indeed, are merely picturesque: that is, they have only the beauties
of harmonious variety of tint, and light and shade, blended with everything
else that is disgusting while the others have these in an equal, or
even superior degree, in addition to the charms of lightness, neatness
One can easily visualise
an attitudinising Emma Hamilton in Payne Knight's "flowing ringlets,
fine shawls, and robes of delicate muslin" and his picturesque
feminine ideal concurs with many accounts of her appearance during
her performances. For
Payne Knight, the most picturesque figure is apparently a moveable
piece of feminine statuary, a woman who simulates antique marble in
her appearance and physical perfection and who displays this through
her graceful movement and the negligent folds of her drapery.
- In picturesque theories, the gypsy represents a roughness, a wildness
and most pertinently, an idleness which is both at one with, and an
ornament to, the variable landscape. The graceful feminine body in its
loose Grecian garb is similarly a sign, for picturesque theorists, of
a naturalised unfettered leisure. Both figures are here described in
terms which render them equivalent to a notion of the natural or the
a-historical. While in themselves they embody that variety and change
necessary to Payne Knight's picturesque pleasures, they are also set
in opposition to the variety and change deemed characteristic of modernity
since their respective appearances share the quality of a decontextualised
timelessness. Their costumes seem natural and a-historical because neither
apparently subscribes to a modern sartorial code. Their bodies are not
bound by the encumbrances of stays, weighed down by ornaments or deformed
by padding and pinching. Their hair is neither dressed nor powdered,
but left to wild dishevelment or negligent curls. Thus they share, Payne
Knight infers, the appearance of natural timelessness, of a cross-temporal
permanence set beyond the vicissitudes of history and fashionable change.
- However, whereas the living statue's timelessness seems purposefully
arranged for the tasteful consumption of a discerning audience, the
gypsy girls' a-historicism avoids the dynamic of conscious performance
and display. The living statue is poised on the discursive boundary
between the late eighteenth-century fashionable woman and a timeless,
classical femininity. Like the fashionable woman, she is there to be
seen, but she is an antique vision of naturalised ease rather than the
dazzling spectacle of contemporary consumerism. According to Payne Knight,
the living statue is more picturesque than the gypsy because she unites
nature with refinement, while the gypsy remains resolutely unrefined.
The living statue is the face of nature made acceptable to a polished
audience, she is nature cleaned up, nature distilled and purified, nature
without its rags and dishevelment. As Payne Knight finds something "disgusting"
in the gypsy's picturesque filthiness, so he is filled with an unqualified
delight at the living statue's "purity." The folds of her
antique drapery are described as "easy" and "negligent,"
conjuring up the image of an almost savage artlessness yet, her graces
are "polished", her elegance "refined", so that
even in her apparent timelessness she is stamped indelibly with the
marks of a polite and civilised modernity. The living statue is at her
most natural and timeless only when she is at her most modern and calculating:
when she disguises the processes of her own polished refinement through
the perfect simulation of an uncultivated, atemporal femininity.
- Its important to note that the decade in which Hamilton performed
her attitudes witnessed a singular transformation in fashionable taste.
"The ladies," remarked the editor of The Ladies Magazine in
reference to current feminine style choices, "in all their dress
an enthusiastic partiality for the forms and fashions which were preferred
among the ancient Greeks and Romans."
The dress of the day, with its light, simple fabrics and new body-freeing
simplicity was precisely that adopted by Hamilton in her attitudes-a
plain robe of white muslin, an antique chiton. Hamilton's picturesque
appearance, her combination of the simplicity of classical statuary
with a naturalised variability, was, then, itself the style of the moment.
If the ideal of picturesque femininity was a figure who assimilated
the qualities of the classical, the natural and the timeless, then so
too, as I have argued, was she relentlessly contemporary. In an era
when women were encouraged to dress like a connoisseur's curiosity,
buying "slippers in imitation of Etruscan ornaments" when
one could choose between Minerva lapels or Iphigenia veils, Hamilton's
attitudes could be read as producing their various classical and contemporary
heroines as a series of available style choices.
Her gallery of statues might also be read by their spectators as a gallery
IV: Fashionable Caprice
- In his comments on the attitudes, Horace Walpole noted that Hamilton's
appearance was marked with the signs of both the classical and the contemporary.
"Sir William Hamilton's pantomime mistress," he wrote, "acts
all the antique statues in an Indian shawl." "People are mad,"
he continued, "about her wonderful expression, which I do not conceive,
so few antique statues having any expression at all-nor being designed
to have it." For Walpole,
Hamilton's exotic drapery and her "wonderful expression" at
odds with antique impassivity were indicative of her contradictory mingling
of the ancient and modern. What his remarks highlight, I think, is that
some of the attitudes' constituent audience might not have been engaged
in the erudite process of recognition of her embodied figures and would
have regarded the display much more simply as a fashionable diversion.
In Walpole's account, the attitudes have the status of one of the many
accomplishments performed by modish young women. For him, Hamilton's
appearance and demeanour are less an appeal to the classical or universal
and are more the sign of her complete conformity with fashionable taste.
- In 1796, a popular English fashion magazine suggested that in recent
years modern dress codes had begun to approach the style of the antique:
By following the style of dress, and the arrangement of drapery, in
the fine remains of antiquity, the present taste has happily emancipated
the ladies from all the ridiculous lumber of the late fashions; from
powder, whalebone and cork, flounces and furbellows, pockets and pincushions.
If a woman dresses
in the manner of an antique statue, Ackerman's Repository of the
Arts claims, she is at once more natural, and more refined. She
bodies forth the fashionable aesthetics of the moment even as she attains
the appearance of the timeless and universal. "Present taste"
may rid the modern feminine figure of its alliterative "lumber,"
but even as it lifts the antique outside and above the realm of those
ornaments and trinkets whose shelf-life is only as long as their novelty
holds, it opens it up to the vulnerability of being supplemented or
supplanted by another sartorial whim. According to Ackerman's Repository,
the "fine remains of antiquity" reveal the a-temporal simplicity
of the feminine form. Yet here, in their very contemporaneity, their
desirability and their commodification, they also appear to share the
status of just another pincushion.
- Another turn of the century fashion magazine noted that
Englishwoman has the extensive privilege of arraying herself in whatever
garb may suit her figure or her fancy. The fashions of every nation
and every era are open to her choice. One day she may appear as the
Egyptian Cleopatra, then a Grecian Helen, next morning the Roman Cornelia:
or if these styles be too august for her taste, there are sylphs,
goddesses, nymphs of every region, in earth or air, ready to lend
her their wardrobe.
The Mirror of the Graces is here describing what amounts to
an Emma Hamilton to suit every taste and pocket. It transforms history
into a series of sartorial paradigms, and in a similar manner to Hamilton's
attitudes, it thereby erases the cultural and temporal differences
between its variety of "sylphs, goddesses and nymphs." Cleopatra,
Helen and Cornelia are merely three commodities who similarly offer
their characters and wardrobes up to the whimsical desires of the
contemporary woman. As the fashionable female picks and chooses among
the heroines of antiquity for the style that suits, she lifts those
heroines out of their original narrative contexts and reinscribes
them within the aesthetics of a contemporary, fluctuating variability
where the terms and referents of "every nation and every era"
can be adapted and marketed to modern taste.
- These turn of the century fashion magazines suggest that every woman
can be a living statue, or even that every woman is a living
statue. In choosing referents from antiquity to define modern femininity,
these publications invoked a pseudo universalism that, like Payne Knight's
classical solid ground, acted as the stable backdrop against which the
fashionable woman displayed her picturesque variability. As a vision
of antique simplicity, the living statue appears to be set beyond the
change and atomisation of modernity. Yet her swift transformations and
her whimsical mercuriality mark her out as the figure of the moment.
She is both a-historical and relentlessly contemporary. She bodies forth
that variety which had come to be regarded as the defining feature of
the tastes and predilections of complex and commercial societies.
- In his Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin describes one mark
of the modern as the "a-historical use of the forms of classical
antiquity" when antique forms are ascribed the cultural value of
"material transiency" rather than "eternal verity".
The illusory appeal of Hamilton's attitudes to the antique-their invitation
to be read as classical even as they enact a range of fashionable heroines
from Mary Magdalen to Sterne's Maria-is, as I have argued, precisely
the sign of their modernity. Perhaps the use of the antique outside
its own particular historical contexts has always been characterised
by "transiency" as opposed to "verity," but what
I have wanted to stress here is how Hamilton's attitudes, her performance,
in Goethe's words, of "all the antiquities," can be read as
a particular articulation of a culture engaged in the process of describing
and expressing its own modernity. This articulation concerns, as I suggested,
a notion of variety or atomisation that was characteristically contemporary
and explicitly feminised: which was similarly associated with the dissipated
excesses of the modern connoisseur and the natural refinements of the
picturesque woman. My intention, in writing of Hamilton primarily as
a spectacle rather than a subject, is not to reinforce the perception
of her as an aesthetic commodity nor to deprive her of control of the
meanings of her own performance. Hamilton's story has been told and
retold in the pages of her many biographies. What intrigues me about
her mimoplastic display, imitated and modified throughout the nineteenth
century in a wide range of monodramas and tableaux vivants, is the way
it fulfilled, confounded or exceeded the aesthetic desires and demands
of its audience-an audience polite and learned, fashionable and dissipated,
who sought in Hamilton's performance the quintessentially modern pleasures
Kate Davies, Centre
for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York
Thanks to Mary Peace, Angela Wright and participants of the 2004 conference
on De Stael's Corinne.
Note on illustrations
Due to copyright restrictions, it has not been possible to reproduce the
illustrations referred to in an internet-only journal. Notes following
each reference to an illustration point the reader to an easily accessible
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Italian Journey, trans. W.H. Auden
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 129. [back]
 John Isbell, "Introduction," Germaine De
Stael, Corinne, or, Italy, trans. Sylvia Raphael (Oxford: Worlds
Classics, 1998), ix.[back]
 See Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand
Tour (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), particularly
chapter 3 "Spectator and Spectacle," 126-172. [back]
 Sir William Hamilton to Charles Greville, 25th April,
1786, Hugh Tours, The Life and Letters of Emma Hamilton (London:
Victor Gollancz, 1963), 57. [back]
 Emma Hart to Charles Greville, 22nd July, 1786, The
Life and Letters of Emma Hamilton, 62. Hart's "Angeleca"
is Angelica Kauffman, who was later to paint her in the character of the
comic muse. [back]
 As is noted by Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt
on the Grand Tour, 147.[back]
 For a thorough account of the vogue of this and related
forms of performance art in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
see Kirsten Gram Holmstrom, Monodrama, Attitudes, Tableaux Vivants
(Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1967). [back]
 Goethe, Italian Journey, 208. Goethe recorded
this response to the performance on 17 March, 1787.[back]
 Volker Schachenmayr, "Emma Lyon, the Attitude,
and Goethean Performance Theory," New Theatre Quarterly 13
(1997): 5. [back]
 Richard Wendorf, Preface, Emma Hamilton's Attitudes
by Frederick Rehberg (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Library, 1990), 3-6.
 Frederick Rehberg, Drawings Faithfully Copied
from Nature at Naples and with Permission Dedicated to the Right Honourable
Sir William Hamilton (n.p, 1794). Richard Wendorf's edition of the
Rehberg series (see note 10 above) is probably the most easily accessible.
In a recent article, David Constantine agrees that the Rehberg attitudes
are "static and lumpy" David Constantine, "Goethe and the
Hamiltons" Oxford German Studies 26 (1997): 124. [back]
 The figures are named as Niobe, a Sybil, Mary Magdalen,
"beloved lonely dreamer" (a pose generally taken as being that
of Lawrence Sterne's Maria, a popular sentimental heroine), Sophonisba,
Amymone, the Muse of Dance, Iphigenia, a nymph, a priestess, Cleopatra
and Santa Rosa. [back]
 Novelli's drawings of Hamilton's attitudes are reproduced
in Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton
and His Collection (London: British Museum, 1996), 259. [back]
 The erotic element of Hamilton's performance has
frequently been remarked upon. In the 1780s and 90s, Rowlandson and Gilray
chose to satirise the attitudes by associating them explicitly with striptease
and representing Hamilton as a posture girl. See the reproductions in
Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes, 300-303. Among
more recent commentators, Jane Aiken Hodge, for example, describes the
performance as "soft porn of the most elegant kind." Jane Aiken
Hodge, Passion and Principle: The Loves and Lives of Regency Women
(London: John Murray, 1996), 120. [back]
 Carlo Gastone, Opere del Cavaliere Carlo Gastone,
Conte della Torre Rezzonico, VII: Giornale del Viggio di Napoli negli
Anni 1789 e 1790 , ed and trans F. Mochetti, (Como: 1819), 247-8.
 See, for example, Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases
and Volcanoes, 258. On the pose associated with Agrippina in late
eighteenth century painting see Duncan Macmillan, "Woman as Hero:
Gavin Hamilton's Radical Alternative," Gil Perry and Michael Rossington,
eds, Femininity and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Art and Culture
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), 78-99. [back]
 Spectators often attempted to Hamilton's attitudes
in precisely this manner (with confusing results). For an alternative
reading in these terms, see Chard, Pleasure and Guilt, 150. [back]
 On masculinity and the dominant civic humanist discourse
of the fine arts in the eighteenth century see John Barrell, The Political
Theory of Painting from Reynolds to Hazlitt: The Body of the Public (London
and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). See also David Solkin, Painting
for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century
England (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). [back]
 Archibald Alison, Essays on the Nature and Principles
of Taste (London: Robinson, 1790), 322. [back]
 Alison, Essays, 301. [back]
 Alison, Essays, 299. [back]
 Goethe, Italian Journey, 315. [back]
 Goethe, Italian Journey, 239-40.[back]
 Goethe, Italian Journey, 240.[back]
 Peter Pindar [John Wolcot], "A Lyric Epistle
to Sir William Hamilton," in in The Works of Peter Pindar Esq
4 vols (London: Weybridge, 1809), vol.2, ll.17-20. [back]
 William Jones, The History of Athens, Politically
and Philosophically Considered with the View to an Investigation of the
Immediated Causes of Elevation and Decline Operative in a Free and Commercial
State (London: J. Robson, 1786), 7. [back]
 Stephen Copley and Peter Garside, "Introduction,"
The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics
Since 1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994),6. [back]
 Mesalina St. George, Journal, October 3,
1800, Hugh Tours, The Life and Letters of Emma Hamilton, 155-6.
 William Gilpin, "On Landscape Painting, A Poem,"
in Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; On Picturesque Travel; and
on Sketching Landscape: To Which is Added a Poem, On Landscape Painting
(London: R. Blamire, 1794), 110. [back]
 Kauffman's painting of Zeuxis Selecting Models
for his Painting of Helen of Troy is reproduced in Wendy Wassyng Roworth,
ed., Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England
(London: Reaktion Books, 1992), 56. [back]
 As John Whale notes, much of the burden of Gilpin's
writing seems to be to "reassemble the variously disposed and dispersed
body of a woman in the landscape." John Whale, "Romantics, Explorers
and Picturesque Travellers," in Stephen Copley and Peter Garside,
eds, The Politics of the Picturesque, 178. [back]
 Payne Knight was a close friend of both the Hamiltons.
He collaborated with Sir William on a number of projects (including the
infamous Priapus findings) and he and Emma maintained a brief, flirtatious
correspondence. See See Michael Clarke and Nicholas Penny, eds, The
Arrogant Connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight 1751-1824 (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1982). See also Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan,
Vases and Volcanoes, 154. [back]
 Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into
the Principles of Taste (London: T Paue 1805), 425.[back]
 Richard Payne Knight, The Landscape: A Didactic
Poem (London: W. Bulmer, 1794), 69. [back]
 Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into
the Principles of Taste, 334.[back]
 Elizabeth Foster, for example, recorded in her diary
that during the attitudes, Hamilton was "draped exactly like a Grecian
statue" in a "chemise of white muslin, her fine black hair flowing
in ringlets over her shoulders." Elizabeth Foster, Diary entry, May,
1791, Hugh Tours, The Life and Letters of Emma Hamilton, 90.[back]
 There are other intriguing associations between
Emma Hamilton and the picturesque stereotype of the figure of the gypsy,
perhaps particularly in the Neapolitan costume she adopted to perform
the tarantella. [back]
 The Ladies Magazine 32 (1801): 226-7.[back]
 The Ladies Magazine 31 (1800): 305. Minerva
lapels and Iphigenia veils are described in The Ladies Magazine
27 (1796): 265.
 W.S. Lewis, ed. The Correspondence of Horace
Walpole, 48 vols (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-83),
vol 11, 337-340. [back]
 Ackerman's Repository of the Arts 3 (1809):
 [unattrib.], The Mirror of the Graces: Or, the
English Lady's Costume (London, 1811), 59-60.[back]
 Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter
Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T Press, 1989),
 Recent biographies of Emma Hamilton include: Flora
Fraser, Beloved Emma; Nora Lofts, Emma Hamilton (London:
Joseph, 1978); Ken Mc Kay, A Remarkable Relationship: The Story of
Emma Hamilton (Milford Haven: Ken McKay, 1992) and Colin Simpson,
The Life of Emma Hamilton (London: Bodley Head, 1983). [back]