When the ruins of Pompeii came to light, they caused a revolution in taste- stripping away rococo gilt, reshaping the female figure, and leaving a deposit of pseudo-Greek temples from Moscow to Mississippi; although what sometimes passed for “classical” would have bewildered the ancients…..
The unearthing of the ruins in Pompeii beginning in 1747 gave fresh vigor to the classical ideal. The discoveries brought to life the world of Greece and Rome as of for the first time; obviously such experiences heightened the tourist’s desire to possess some relic of this world, which opened now as a whole museum of object awaiting them. The collectors and connoisseurs now bought with a renewed fervor, and they were willing to pay dearly. Soon, a stream of objects,- authentic, faked, and indifferent – was soon flowing across the Continent to fill their studies and decorate the garden of the wealthy in England. The world of fashion had gone Pompeii mad.
The English visitors were extremely fortunate in their host, for Sir William Hamilton, Plenipotentiary at naples for thirty-six years ( 1764-1800) , was both warmly hospitable and immersed in the new discoveries. He might occasionally tire of the hordes of tourists, but he never failed to entertain his visitors, or to instruct them in the finer points of excavations. As enthusiastic as he was knowledgeable , he never tired of showing his visitors over Vesuvius and the new finds, on both of which he was a considerable expert.
As a close friend of Queen maria Carolina of Naples, he had easy access to the excavations, and his guests were rarely disappointed , for it had become the custom at Herculaneum to “lay on” finds for distinguished visitors. Fine bronzes and particularly impressive statues were carefully reburied and brought to light with excited cries of surprise and congratulation just as the visitors arrived or immediately after they moved their first spadeful of earth. The most spectacular finds were kept, if possible, for Queen Maria Carolina herself. Her delighted enthusiasm- and her splendid tips- more than repaid the thoughtful timing of such discoveries. For even the most unimportant visitor , the diggers could usually manage a coin or a marble fragment, if he was accompanied by Sir William.
However, Sir William had more to offer than hospitality, expertise, and an entree to the digs. He had also a “living antique” , his lovely young mistress, Emma, who later became his wife, and later, the mistress of Lord Nelson. Sir William had acquired her from his nephew, Charles Greville, who in the course of a correspondence, which startles by its cold blooded common sense and unhinged frankness, assured him, “You will have comfort with the prettiest woman confessedly in London”. The poets and painters would say more…A Modern, who will not render your criticisms of the Antique less pure.” As Goethe wrote, “In her he finds the charm of all antiques, the fair profiles onSicilian coins, the Apollo Belvedere himself.”
Apart from her beauty, she possessed a charm and gaiety of manner that captivated her most hostile critics and an acting skill that she employed in her “Grecian attitudes” . Draped in a few yards of gauze, and standing in a black-lined box framed in gold, Emma entranced European society by portraying the various attitudes of the figures found at Herculaneum and thus one for them new fame all over the Continent. The cynics may say that she was merely adapting the skills she had learned while posing in indecent “tableaux vivants” in the stews of London, and they may well be right, but it did not affect her popularity in the least. Her Grecian eurythmics, as they came to be called, were copied by hordes of aspiring hostesses in every European capital.
…At this time The Royal Academy was having great difficulty finding models for their artists because the work was considered ‘unbecoming’, Emma however became a favorite model of Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney. Many Hundreds of paintings were painted of Emma, especially by Romney who became obsessed with her. Emma took on pseudonyms such as ‘Emma Potts,’ ‘Emily Potts,’ ‘Miss Emily,’ ‘Warren,’ ‘Beartie,’ and ‘Coventry’. Emma then worked as a model and dancer at the “Goddess of Health” for James Graham a Scottish “quack” doctor. The establishment’s greatest attraction being a bed with which electricity was passed giving patrons mild shocks. This supposidly aided conception and many infertile couples paid high prices to try it. One patron who paid for pleasure not conception was 18 year old George IV who sampled the bed with his Mistress Mary Robinson who had been one of the actress
hat Emma had been a maid for.
At the age of 15 Emma took on work at ‘Madame Kelly’s’ an exclusive brothel next to the Ritz Hotel. It had been reported in Town and Country Magazine that a woman looking very much like Emma had set up there. The magazine coyly refered to the establishment as “Santa Carolotta’s Nunnery”. It was there that Emma begain to refine her lewid postures for her more refined clients. One of Emma’s clients was Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh. She was hired by Sir Harry for several monthes from the brothel as the host and entertainer at a lengthy stag party at his country estate in South Downs. Sir Harry took Emma as his mistress but often neglected her for drinking and hunting. In late June early July of 1781 Emma conceived a child by Sir Harry. Sir Harry was furious by the unwanted pregnancy and placed Emma at one of his London houses. Sir Harry ignored Emma’s advances after this point and she then turned her attentions to his friend, Charles Frances Greville. Her daugher, Emma Carew was removed to be raised by a Mr. and Mrs. Blackbburn after she was born. Carew saw her mother frequently while growing up but when Emma went to debters prison Carew was forced to leave the country to work abroad as a companion or governess….