Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret

Heavily armed woman in armour, rescuing a semi-nude woman from a wild-eyed man and trampling on a blood-stained book
Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret, 1833, 90.8 by 66 cm (35.7 by 26.0 in)

Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret is an oil painting on canvas by English artist William Etty, first exhibited in 1833 and now in Tate Britain. Intended to illustrate the virtues of honour and chastity, it depicts a scene from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene in which the female warrior Britomart slays the evil magician Busirane and frees his captive, the beautiful Amoret. In Spenser's original poem Amoret has been tortured and mutilated by the time of her rescue, but Etty disliked the depiction of violence and portrayed her as unharmed.

Despite being a depiction of an occult ritual, a violent death, a partly nude woman and strongly implied sexual torture, Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret was uncontroversial on its first exhibition in 1833 and was critically well received. Sold by Etty to a private collector in 1833, it passed through the hands of several more before entering the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. In 1958, it was acquired by the Tate Gallery, and it remains in the collection of Tate Britain.

Background

William Etty was born in 1787 in York, the son of a miller and baker.[1] He showed artistic promise from an early age,[2] but his family were financially insecure,[1] and at the age of 12 he left school to become an apprentice printer in Hull.[3] On completing his seven-year indenture he moved to London "with a few pieces of chalk-crayons in colours",[4] with the aim of emulating the Old Masters and becoming a history painter.[5] Etty gained acceptance to the Royal Academy Schools in early 1807.[6] After a year spent studying under renowned portrait painter Thomas Lawrence,[7] Etty returned to the Royal Academy, drawing at the life class and copying other paintings.[7][8] In 1821 the Royal Academy exhibited one of Etty's works, The Arrival of Cleopatra in Cilicia (also known as The Triumph of Cleopatra).[9] The painting was extremely well received, and many of Etty's fellow artists greatly admired him. He was elected a full Royal Academician in 1828, ahead of John Constable.[10] He became well respected for his ability to capture flesh tones accurately in painting and for his fascination with contrasts in skin tones.[11]

Woman removing her clothing while two naked men watch
Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed (1830). By the 1830s Etty had developed a reputation for using scenes from history, mythology and literature as pretexts for painting nude figures.

Following the exhibition of Cleopatra, Etty attempted to reproduce its success, concentrating on painting further history paintings containing nude figures.[12] He exhibited 15 paintings at the Summer Exhibition in the 1820s (including Cleopatra), and all but one contained at least one nude figure.[13][A] In so doing Etty became the first English artist to treat nude studies as a serious art form in their own right, capable of being aesthetically attractive and of delivering moral messages.[15] Although some nudes by foreign artists were held in private English collections, Britain had no tradition of nude painting, and the display and distribution of nude material to the public had been suppressed since the 1787 Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice.[16] The supposed prurient reaction of the lower classes to his nude paintings caused concern throughout the 19th century.[17] Many critics condemned his repeated depictions of female nudity as indecent, although his portraits of male nudes were generally well received.[18] (Etty's male nude portraits were primarily of mythological heroes and classical combat, genres in which the depiction of male nudity was considered acceptable in England.)[19] From 1832 onwards, needled by repeated attacks from the press, Etty remained a prominent painter of nudes but made conscious efforts to try to reflect moral lessons in his work.[20]

Other Languages