Edited By Ruben Moi, Brynhildur Boyce and Charles Armstrong
James Barry’s Shakespeare Paintings
Between 1786 and 1792, James Barry produced two paintings for Alderman John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, that extraordinary combination of the aesthetic, the mercantilist and the nationalistic which culminated in the production of 167 paintings of the plays of Shakespeare. The earlier painting, King Lear weeping over the body of Cordelia (1786–7),1 is one of several treatments of the same theme that had occupied Barry since 1774, and to which he would return. It shows the desolate king carrying the body of his daughter Cordelia near the very end of the play, when his two unfaithful daughters, Goneril and Regan, lie dead at his feet, and their co-conspirator Edmund is carried off at the left, leaving Lear with Kent and attendants at the moment just before his death. Like most of the paintings in the Boydell gallery, it achieved wider exposure as an engraving (Figure 1).
The other, Iachimo emerging from the chest in Imogen’s chamber (Figure 2), was for Barry a wholly new subject. It shows a moment narrated, but not presented, in Shakespeare’s late play Cymbeline. Imogen’s banished husband Posthumus has accepted a wager from Iachimo that his wife will prove unfaithful to him. Iachimo arranges to be carried into her chamber in a trunk, from which he emerges to record every detail of the room and, most important, the mole beneath her left breast. This he uses to prove Imogen’s infidelity.← 115 | 116 →
Figure 1 James Barry, King...
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