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Dido in Despair (caricature)

Prints, drawings and watercolours

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Object ID PAF3874
Description Print 'Dido in Despair (caricature)'. This print satirizes the scandalous relationship between Nelson and Emma Hamilton, casting them in the roles of Dido and Aeneas, the central love interest of the classical Roman poet Virgil’s epic, the Aeneid. Spurred on by the gods and his sense of public duty, Aeneas abandons Dido in Carthage in order to found Rome. Gillray plays with heavy irony upon the parallels between the Virgilian narrative and the recent history of Nelson and Emma: after the Battle of the Nile, Nelson recuperated at length (and notoriously) at the home of Sir William and Emma, Lady Hamilton, at Naples. They eventually returned to England in November 1800, by which time Emma was seven months pregnant with Nelson’s child. Nelson, promoted to vice-admiral, resumed duty as second-in-command of the Channel Fleet on 17 January 1801. The print, therefore, refers to this parting, with Emma, excessively fat, in an ‘attitude’ of despair, voicing the sentiments contained in the verse caption: 'Ah, where, & ah where, is my gallant Sailor gone? – He’s gone to Fight the Frenchmen, for George upon the Throne, He’s gone to Fight ye Frenchmen, t’loose t’other Arm & Eye, And left me with the old Antiques, to lay me down, & cry.' The last line refers to Emma’s aged husband asleep in the bed beside her. Meanwhile, a range of grotesque and suggestively ribald objects on the table, floor and settee refer to the sexual improprieties of her and Nelson’s relationship and undercut the pretensions of the classical allusions.
Date made Published 6 February 1801

Artist/Maker Gillray, James
Humphrey, H.
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials hand-coloured etching
Measurements Primary support: 250 mm x 353 mm; Mount: 405 mm x 556 mm
  • Dido in Despair (caricature) (PAF3874)
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