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Raphael Morghen

(1758 Naples – 1833 Florence)

Lady Hamilton as the Comic Muse. Etching and engraving after Angelika Kauffmann. 43.4 x 31.4 cm. (1791). Nagler 150.

The picture, based on a composition by Angelika Kauffmann, shows Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765–1815), as the personification of the muse Thalia. Of humble origins, the beautiful and ambitious Emma quickly climbed the social ladder to reach the upper echelons of aristocratic society. Her liaisons, considered scandalous by many of her contemporaries, and her career as a singer and actress earned her European renown in the late eighteenth century. Numerous artists portrayed the intelligent and attractive femme fatale, among them George Romney, who created over forty portraits of her, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein and Angelika Kauffmann. Lady Hamilton lived from 1786 to 1800 in Naples, where she was in a relationship with the British Envoy, Sir William Hamilton. In our engraving she stands clad in a classical style gown in front of a stage curtain. In her right hand she holds a theatre mask twined around with vine tendrils, while the belt around her midriff is decorated with a medallion portrait of the naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, with whom she had a passionate love affair over many years. The engraving by Raphael Morghen, a native of Naples, convincingly reproduces the courtly elegance and the gentle gracefulness of Angelika Kauffmann’s original. In 1770, Morghen was apprenticed in Rome to Giovanni Volpato, from whom he learned the art of French line engraving. The portrait is executed in a technically sophisticated engraving technique using a broad range of different, narrow hatching patterns and fine stipplings. This allows for a convincing treatment of the material and produces soft light effects. A very fine, harmonious impression with thread margins; trimmed to the platemark at the top and left-hand side. Minor ageing, otherwise in very good condition.

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