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18th Century European Art

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Portrait of a Woman as a Bacchante

probably 1790s
25 x 20 3/4 in. (63.5 x 52.7 cm)

Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun
France (1755 - 1842)

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James V. Aquavella
Accession Number: 2005.277
Location: Currently on view
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The woman in this painting appears as a Bacchante—a female follower of Bacchus, the god of wine and mystical ecstasy. The cluster of grape leaves symbolize wine; her disheveled hair, scanty dress, and enticing gaze suggest the decadence of Bacchanalian festivals.

During the 1700s, artists frequently portrayed their patrons as figures from classical mythology. Portraits of women in the guise of Bacchantes were also a popular theme for other leading portraitists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney. This is possibly a portrait of Emma, Lady Hamilton, the infamous mistress of Lord Nelson. She was known as a performer of “attitudes,” or theatrical poses of Greek mythological and historical characters.

[Forman Gallery, Summer 2015]

See the artist's commentary on Emma Hamilton, who has sometimes been identified as the sitter in this portrait, in Elizabeth Vigée Lebrun, "Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun," Doubleday, New York, 1903: pp. 66-69. Vigée-Lebrun painted Lady Hamilton on other occasions, so this reference does not specifically relate to MAG's painting.

Dr. and Mrs. James Aquavella; their gift to the Gallery in 2005

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