French Rococo artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun painted the portrait Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante Élisabeth in 1792.
Louise Vigée-Lebrun fled France at the outbreak of the French Revolution as her friendship with Queen Marie Antoinette would have placed her in danger. The artist traveled across Europe to Naples where she obtained shelter thanks to that queen, Marie Antoinette’s sister.
It was in Naples that Vigée-Lebrun met Emma Hamilton whose husband was the English ambassador to Naples. This portrait was inspired by Emma’s own so-called ‘Attitudes’, or re-enactments of classical scenes from her husband’s antique vases. A bacchante was an ancient priestess of Dionysius (the Roman Bacchus), the god of wine and revelry. In the background is Mount Vesuvius, the volcanic mountain near Naples.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun’s Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante is in the National Museum in Liverpool.