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Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo

1 of 3 portraits of Elizabeth Griffith

Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, by Richard Samuel, exhibited 1779 - NPG 4905 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo

by Richard Samuel
oil on canvas, exhibited 1779
52 in. x 61 in. (1321 mm x 1549 mm)
Purchased, 1972
Primary Collection
NPG 4905

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Britain's artistic and intellectual women were triumphantly celebrated by Richard Samuel in this unusual group portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779. It depicts nine contemporary creative women dressed in classical-style robes in 'the Characters of the Muses'. Assembled in a 'Temple of Apollo', beneath a monumental statue of the god, they are presented as members of a modern pantheon of arts and letters.
A network of writers, scholars, artists and performers, all the women included - except for Elizabeth Montagu, literary critic and Bluestocking hostess - earned a living from their work. The singer Elizabeth Ann Sheridan is in the centre, holding a lyre. The artist Angelica Kauffman sits at an easel. Other women include the historian Catharine Macaulay, the playwright and anti-slavery campaigner Hannah More and the classicist Elizabeth Carter.
Samuel did not take sittings for this highly-idealised portrait and the identities of the women can only be established from the print published at about the same time. Instead, the painting was a speculative venture to advance Samuel's own ambitions and capitalise on contemporary interest in the Muses. By combining real women with the powerful symbolic figures of the Muses, Samuel's composition extols the contribution of female professionals to the 'sister arts'

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