Thursday, November 08, 2007


When I'm having nice sex, my mind tends to wander. For example, the other night I was making love with my baby, a wee bit high we were, as you do, and I was feeling so gorgeous and stretched out and free that my head floated off to somewhere else. I was all loved up, the music was playing, the lights were low, and there I was, back at the Frick Collection, 1 E. 70th St., NY NY 10021, which I had visited earlier in the day.

Images of the paintings I'd seen floated past my closed eyes in the dark, this man in particular:
Not much is known about "Portrait of a Man," Hans Memling, Netherlands, c. 1470-1475, though Memling frequently painted religious subjects and this may be the portrait of a cleric. A very intelligent and noble cleric, according to the Frick's description that appeared alongside the painting. I didn't see that. I was more interested in the stubble in his beard and the depth in his eyes. He's really very sexy. See the manly lines around his mouth and his big Gallic-looking nose? He reminds me of a French ski instructor I met a long time ago in the Alps.

There was something of a transference that night as his face floated into my head and briefly replaced the man in my bed. Mmmmm....

And then we were joined by a lady, who also came floating into my head:

"Lady Hamilton as Nature," to be specific, painted in 1782 by the English painter George Romney, who painted Emma Hamilton's portrait dozens of times at the height of her popularity in the 1780s.

Emma Hamilton was a full-on bad girl. A blacksmith's daughter born in 1761, she took full advantage of her youth and beauty to transform herself from a common brothel prostitute into a mistress for a few select men from London's high society.

Emma and the Honorable Charles Francis Greville were deeply in love, but when Charles started to look for a rich wife, he sent Emma to Italy to be the mistress of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples. Sir William liked Emma so much that he married her, and she became a party-throwing trendsetter with a love of gambling.

She also had a love of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, a one-armed, toothless sailor whose mild brain damage didn't prevent him from leading the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805, when the British defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet in the most significant naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Don't ask me for any more details than that, because military history makes my mind go numb.

"Their affair seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, by the elderly Sir William, who showed nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson," according to the Wikipedia entry on Lady Hamilton. "Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia on January 31, 1801, at Sir William's rented home in Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London. By the autumn of the same year, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small ramshackle house on the outskirts of modern day Wimbledon. There he lived openly with Emma, and Sir William (along with Emma's mother) in a menage a trois that fascinated the public."

Within four years, Sir William died, Nelson died at Trafalgar, and Emma spent the money she had inherited from both of them on gambling and lavish living. After a year spent in debtor's prison, she moved to France, where she died in poverty of alcoholism-induced liver failure at the age of 54.

On a happier note, the wildly rich American industrialist Henry Clay Frick, 1849-1919, had a pash for Lady Hamilton. (I examined the book titles in his mansion's library, and he clearly had an Anglophilic turn of mind.) After buying Romney's portrait, he hung it over the foot of his bed so Emma's was the first face he saw every morning. That's a nicely circular way for me to end this story. Surely, Mr. Frick was a man who would have appreciated the painterly visitations that came into my head as I made love to my sweetie.


Anonymous said...

i'm speechless after that one..perhaps your hubby should don a wig so you can concentrate on him!!!

KennethSF said...

You are in good company! I remember encountering Lady Hamilton as a character in Susan Sontag's novel The Volcano Lover. Quite a fascinating woman!

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