Thomas Hope visited Italy in 1803 during the secession of hostilities between Britain and France in an attempt to retrieve some of the purchases he had during an earlier trip to Rome in 1793. Hope had visited Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Emma, in Naples in 1793 and almost certainly witnessed a performance of her famous ‘attitudes’. Hope stayed in touch with the Hamiltons in London, acquiring Sir William’s second collection of Greek vases for 4,500 guineas in 1801. The present sheet depicts Emma twice in profile in attic costume suggestive of the type of attire she wore for her ‘attitudes’. Goethe famously observed:
‘She lets down her hair and, with a few shawls, gives so much variety to her poses, gestures, expressions, etc., that the spectator can hardly believe his eyes. He sees what thousands of artists would have liked to express realized before him in movements and surprising transformations – standing, kneeling, sitting, reclining, serious, sad, playful, ecstatic, contrite, alluring, threatening, anxious, one pose follows another without break… in her he [Sir William Hamilton] has found all the antiquities, all the profiles of Sicilian coins, even the Apollo Belvedere.’
Hope evidently appreciated the same affinity with antique coins, showing Emma in profile only, unlike the famous line engravings of Tommaso Piroli after Friedrich Rehberg which show Emma in full-length. Hope’s spare, highly expressive drawings capture Hamilton’s poses in a manner fully in sympathy with his own taste in the antique. At precisely this date Hope was coordinating the production of his Household Furniture & Interior Design, which demonstrates a similar, economic graphic style. The two studies also demonstrate Hope’s interest in fashion, he was a pioneer of Regency fashion and has long been appreciated for his interest in reviving antique modes of costume. Drawings by Hope are rare and this example is particularly important, showing the leading designer of the Regency period responding to one of the most celebrated figures of Grand Tour Italy.
- Quoted in ed. Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, Exh. Cat., London (British Museum), 1996, pp.252-253.
- See Aileen Ribeiro, ‘Fashion à l’Antique: Thomas Hope and Regency Dress’, in ed. David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jaboor, Thomas Hope: Regency Designer, exh. cat. London (Victoria and Albert Museum), 2008, pp.77-89.