Richard II, from "Twelve Characters from Shakespeare"

Etched and published by John Hamilton Mortimer British
Subject William Shakespeare British

Not on view

Mortimer admired Salvator Rosa, absorbed aspects of his dramatic style, and sought British equivalents for his poetic subjects. This etching comes from a series devoted to leading Shakespearean characters, based on drawings exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1775. Merging the seventeenth-century genres of the character head and tête d'expression (expressive head), Mortimer's designs also incorporate aspects of history painting to convey the Bard's dramatic range. Attracted to tragic figures, the artist here portrays Richard II as an arrogant potentate, gorgeously dressed in a turban and jewels, and unaware of the tiny skeletal figure of Death who prepares to dispatch him with a pin. The artist was inspired by the following passage:
"For within the hollow crown,
That rounds the mortal temples of a King,
Keeps Death his court, & there the antick sits
Scoffing his State & grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be feard & kill with looks
Infusing him with self & vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable & humoured thus
Comes at last & with a little pin
Bores thro' his castle walls & farewell King."
(Richard II, act 3, scene 2)

Richard II, from "Twelve Characters from Shakespeare", Etched and published by John Hamilton Mortimer (British, Eastbourne 1740–1779 London), Etching

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