A Cognoscenti Contemplating the Beauties of the Antique

James Gillray

James Gillray - A Cognoscenti Contemplating the Beauties of the Antique
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, prints with current satirical content enjoyed wide public acclaim and interest among collectors. Gillray’s hand−coloured etchings, engraved in a spontaneous, stylistically independent manner, frequently exceeded the boundaries of obligatory respect and contemporary convention. However, they also required a ready understanding of the current situation, necessary for grasping the hidden personal insinuations and contemporary and historical contexts, for which reason they were intended for a well−informed public. One of Gillray’s main victims, the Prince Regent and later King George IV, who collected these prints, also showed a sense of humour. This etching is related to a period scandal from the highest society. The connoisseur depicted here is Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), a diplomat, Classical archaeologist and collector of antiquities, who, for many years, was a British Envoy to Naples. His second marriage to Emma Hart (1761–1815) ended in failure; at the time this etching was in the making, her liaison with Admiral Nelson was at its height, and Gillray focusses here on her abandoned husband. He surrounds the old man with artefacts representing figures from ancient history and Greek mythology, whose stories are meant to bring him consolation.
date:
measurements: height 360 mm
width 257 mm
in collections:
material: paper
inscription:
inventory number: R 206327
gallery collection: Collection of Prints and Drawings
licence: Creative Commons License public domain