Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

B.A. in Liberal Arts

Chief Sponsor

Jerrilynn Dodds

Faculty Sponsor 1

Lyde Sizer


When describing the marriage of Sir William Hamilton to his second wife, Emma, in 1791, Horace Walpole remarked he had “actually married his collection of statues.” This remark encapsulates a view of Emma Hamilton as art object, and later as a caricature of sensual vice. In examining portraits of this complex figure, this paper seeks to bring more attention to portraits as an intersectional medium, and to images of Emma Hamilton as a rich historical resource in late eighteenth-century art and society. Themes of theatrical discourse and sensibility culture contribute to a more comprehensive view of women in liminal social positions crafting their own artistic images.

Nowhere is Lady Hamilton’s involvement in the visual construction of her own identity more legible than in her portraits - particularly those by such contemporary masters as Romney, Reynolds, Kauffman, and Vigée-Lebrun. Each of theses artists manipulates gender conventions and theatrical discourses of this historical moment. These representations intersect with her salon performances known as attitudes, and connect to an eighteenth-century concern with a heightened consciousness of self and others, a sensitivity to finer feelings, characterised as ‘sensibility culture.’ In these portraits the sitter negotiates a construction of her own identity with the artists. My hope is to enrich the discourse concerning Lady Hamilton within the field of art history, and to draw out a case for her as a conscious participant in a late-eighteenth century culture of sensibility, one which was anchored both visually and culturally.