A Cognocenti Contemplating ye Beauties of ye Antique

James Gillray British
Publisher Hannah Humphrey British

Not on view

Sir William Hamilton formed a collection of ancient art while serving as British ambassador to Naples and Gillray shows him examining a bust of Lais, a Greek courtesan whose face resembles Emma, Hamilton's wife. Much younger than her husband, she had first become his mistress and entertained guests by performing "Attitudes" that imitated antique sculptures–evoked here by a headless Bacchante holding grapes. The small weeping Cupid refers to Lady Hamilton's famous love affair with Admiral Horatio Nelson which began in Naples around 1799. Hamilton remained on cordial terms with both his wife and Nelson and, when this print appeared, all three had recently traveled back to London together. Gillray comments on the notorious relationship through pictures on the back wall that are titled "Cleopatra," "Mark Anthony" and "Claudius," while the love affair that began in Naples is evoked by a smoking Mount Etna.

A Cognocenti Contemplating ye Beauties of ye Antique, James Gillray (British, London 1756–1815 London), Hand-colored etching

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.