There’s a new exhibition about to open in the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, titled Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity. For the sake of those among you who ‘didn’t win first prize in the lottery of life’: Lady Hamilton is famous for being the lover of Admiral Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar and the saviour of England.
I first heard of Nelson when I was about seven and the Hungarian Television broadcasted the 1941 black-and-white tearjerker, That Hamilton Woman. Being too young to grasp that the handsome Royal Navy officer on screen was in fact Laurence Olivier, rather than Nelson himself, at the end of the film I was left with a life-long admiration for Nelson, a life-long dislike for Bonaparte and a complete unawareness of who Laurence Olivier was.
If you’re wondering what’s this got to do with the Mediterranean (it being Monday), only this: that the couple met and fell in love in Naples where Emma’s husband Lord Hamilton then lived and worked for the British government. Lady Hamilton was a friend of the Queen of Naples and when the French advanced towards the city, Nelson obligingly carried the royal family (and the Hamiltons) to safety in Palermo in his own ship. But leaving aside the vexatious issue of how much Nelson did or did not cover himself in glory during this episode of Naples in 1798-99, I thought today I’ll share a couple of sea-views of early 19th century Naples.
This bizarrely named castle – Castle of the Egg – was built by the Normans in the 12th century on the ruins of Roman fortifications and was still in use in the time of Nelson. It owes its name to a medieval legend which claims that the Roman poet Virgil – who lived near Naples in the latter part of his life and set part of the Aeneid in the bay area – was a bit of a sorcerer and buried an enchanted egg in a glass case where now the castle stands. Given that Naples was supposedly safe only as long as the egg remained intact, taking a pickaxe to the site in order to start digging foundations for a castle might not have been the smartest idea? But as the city is still standing, it’s safe to assume that neither the builders, nor various sieges ever shattered the egg!
Both paintings above are from the painters of the so-called School of Posillipo – a group of minor landscape painters who based themselves in the first half of the 19th century of the Neapolitan neighbourhood of Posillipo.