Portrait of Lady Caroline Montagu in Byronic Costume


This portrait depicts a young woman, in colorful costume, seated on the ground against a large rock by the sea. The large outcrop of rock is crowned with a variety of vegetation. Mountains can be seen against the clouded blue sky to her left. The female figure is shown in the three-quarter position traditional for portraiture: her upper body is turned towards the picture plane, her face tilted slightly to one side, and she smiles and looks flirtatiously out at the viewer. She wears a square red veil affixed to her head with a large golden pin; her dress has a red bodice and red-striped olive-green skirt. The puffed white sleeves of her costume are worn off the shoulder and trimmed with blue, gold, and red ribbons. Over the dress she wears a striped and delicately fringed apron of red, olive, pale pink, coral, indigo, and gold, as well as a patterned sash knotted at the waist and joined in a tassel. Additionally, she wears gold rings, hoop earrings, two chain necklaces, and a bracelet; she holds a rosary in her right hand. She wears black shoes with silver buckles, and a dagger is tucked behind the sash at her waist. To her right is an open treasure chest spilling forth pearls, jewels, fabrics, a pistol, and a large spindle. In the background and to her left are two male figures in pointed hats (one leans on a rifle), conversing and looking out over the sea. Further off, three additional male figures crouch at the shoreline, and we can see a lighthouse structure on a distant protrusion of land.

Primary Works: 

Lord Byron's Don Juan (1819)

Accession Number: 


Height (in centimeters): 


Width (in centimeters): 

This painting was commissioned from George Hayter (1792-1871), probably in the autumn of 1831, by the family of Lady Caroline Montagu (Bryant). It presumably remained in the family for some years, although its exact provenance is unclear. It came into the possession of the Christopher Wood Gallery, 141 New Bond Street, London, and was bought from that gallery for the Elvehjem Museum of Art in 1993. This purchase was a donation to the museum from the Evjue Foundation, and was made in memory of Vi Miller, the late wife of Fred Miller. Mr. Miller was the treasurer of the Evjue Foundation and Chairman of the Board of the Capital Times Co. in Madison, Wisconsin. The Elvehjem Museum has now been renamed the Chazen Museum of Art and is the university art museum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
This painting was loaned to the Tate Britain museum in London for the exhibition “Constable to Delacroix: British Art and the French Romantics,” which ran from February 5 to May 11, 2003. Although the exhibition traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, this painting was only loaned to the London venue. The painting’s loan was the subject of a Capital Times article by Kevin Lynch, “Elvehjem Art Loaned to British Museum" (February 27, 2003; SAVVY, 1F). The image was reproduced in the exhibition’s catalog (Noon 191).
Catholic Emancipation 

During most of the Romantic period, members of parliament and other government officers were required to profess allegiance to the Church of England through the Test and Corporation Acts; consequently, Catholics were prevented from entering parliament. Beginning in 1778, a series of Catholic Relief Acts, prompted by the need to unite with Ireland against France, led to the gradual loosening of these restrictions. Through the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829, Catholics were finally allowed to sit in both houses of parliament (McCalman 446). William Montagu seems to have been sympathetic to the Catholic cause, and Lady Montagu’s decision to be painted with a rosary may reflect the family’s political position on Catholic emancipation and the slightly less hostile environment post-1829, or it may simply function as an attribute of the exoticized Italian peasant.

Tours of George Hayter

This portrait appears to have been commissioned shortly after Hayter’s return to London in the autumn of 1831. He had been abroad to Italy (1816-1818, and again from 1826-1828) and Paris, where he had just exhibited portraits of French and British nobility at the 1831 Salon (Noon 191). Though Hayter did not become the official Portrait and Historical Painter to Queen Victoria until 1838, he was already well-known at this time for aristocratic portraiture (Bryant).
The (fictional) Aegean island of Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Canto II (1819)
Don Juan (1819)

Lady Montagu seems dressed as Haidée, a literary character from Lord Byron’s Don Juan. Canto II recounts Don Juan's involvement with the pirate's daughter, particularly stanzas CXX-CXXI and CXXVIII:
And such was she, the lady of the cave:

Her dress was very different from the Spanish,

Simpler, and yet of colours not so grave;

For, as you know, the Spanish women banish

Bright hues when out of doors, and yet, while wave

Around them (what I hope will never vanish)

The basquina and the mantilla, they

Seem at the same time mystical and gay.

But with our damsel this was not the case:

Her dress was many-colour’d, finely spun;

Her locks curl’d negligently round her face,

But through them gold and gems profusely shone:

Her girdle sparkled, and the richest lace

Flow’d in her veil, and many a precious stone

Flash’d on her little hand; but, what was shocking,

Her small snow feet had slippers, but no stocking.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

He [the Greek pirate] had an only daughter, call’d Haidée,

The greatest heiress of the Eastern Isles

Besides, so very beautiful was she,

Her dowry was as nothing to her smiles:

Still in her teens, and like a lovely tree

She grew to womanhood, and between whiles

Rejected several suitors, just to learn

How to accept a better in his turn.

Guy Mannering (1815)

In Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer (anonymously published in 1815), there is a pivotal scene in which Meg Merrilies, a gypsy woman, divines Harry Bertram’s future using a spindle:
She sat upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her spindle. A strong sunbeam, through a lofty and narrow window, fell upon her wild dress and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. Equipt in a habit which mingled the national dress of the Scottish common people with something of an eastern costume, she spun a thread, drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white, and grey, by assistance of those ancient implements of housewifery, now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle. As she spun, she sung what seemed to be a charm. Mannering, after in vain attempting to make himself master of the exact words of her song, afterwards attempted the following paraphrase of what, from a few intelligible phrases, he concluded to be its purport:
Twist ye, twine ye! even so

Mingle shades of joy and woe,

Hope, and fear, and peace, and strife,

In the thread of human life.

While the mystic twist is spinning,

And the infant's life beginning,

Dimly seen through twilight bending,

Lo, what varied shapes attending!

Passions wild, and follies vain,

Pleasures soon exchanged for pain;

Doubt, and jealousy and fear,

In the magic dance appear.

Now they wax, and now they dwindle,

Whirling with the whirling spindle.

Twist ye, twine ye! even so,

Mingle human bliss and woe.
Ere our translator, or rather our free imitator, had arranged these stanzas in his head, and while he was yet hammering out a rhyme for spindle, the task of the sibyl was accomplished, or her wool was expended. She took the spindle, now charged with her labours, and, undoing the thread gradually, measured it, by casting it over her elbow, and bringing each loop round between her fore finger and thumb. When she had measured it out, she muttered to herself—"A hank, but not a haill ane—the full years o' three score and ten, but thrice broken, and thrice to oop (ie. to unite); he'll be a lucky lad an he win through wi't."

Our hero was about to speak to the prophetess, when a voice, hoarse as the waves with which it mingled, halloo'd twice, and with increasing impatience—

"Meg, Meg Merrilies!—Gipsy—hag—thousand deyvils!” (Scott 63-66)
Associated Artwork

An unfinished sketch of this picture was included in George Hayter’s studio sale at Christies, which took place on April 19-21, 1871, lot 582.

The portrait also anticipates Thomas Phillip’s c. 1835 painting, George Gordon, Sixth Baron Byron, now in the National Portrait Gallery in London, which depicts Byron in Albanian costume holding a rifle or musket.

This work may also respond to two earlier grand manner portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds in Lady Caroline’s family. Her grandmother Elizabeth, Duchess of Manchester, was depicted with one of her young sons as Diana disarming Cupid, and her great-aunt Anne Dashwood, Elizabeth’s younger sister, was portrayed as an Arcadian shepherdess. Elizabeth was still alive at the time that Lady Caroline’s portrait was painted in 1831, while Dashwood had died just the year before.
This portrait depicts Lady Catherine Montagu as a figure of social unconventionality, sporting a dress reminiscent of both the piratical and the gypsy lifestyle as romanticized by writers of the era. More specifically, she seems to be portrayed as Haidée, a character from Byron's Don Juan.
For Unsanctioned Wanderings:

Lady Montagu participates in the fashionable trend of having one’s portrait painted “in the guise of some literary or dramatic persona, as her costume is a mélange” of folk and fashionable dress (Noon 191). Specifically, Montagu wears a faux-dirndl (the gold lacing of the bodice appears to be merely decorative), which combines elements of Neapolitan and Alsatian folk dress—the colorful, striped apron, large sash and pinned head-veil—with fashionable evening-wear of the period—dropped sleeves in an un-cuffed gigot style and centrally-parted hair (Anawalt 117; Foster 51).

She is surrounded by both domestic and piratical accessories (a spindle, as well as a treasure box, pistol, and dagger). These piratical accoutrements, and the fantastical hybrid nature of her costume, suggest the Romantic fascination with the wandering, dangerous lifestyle of seafaring vagabonds. The spindle, though a symbol of feminine domesticity, is also a very portable tool and thus underscores the fantasy of a nomadic existence. Additionally, the spindle may have been specifically associated with gypsy fortune-telling and prophecy. Meg Merrilies, the tempestuous gypsy of Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering or The Astrologer (1815) and one of the most notorious literary gypsies of the era, famously divines Harry Bertram’s horoscope “by assistance of those ancient implements of housewifery, now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle” (quoted above; see Associated Texts). Not only were illustrations of this scene well-known through the various prints of Scott’s novel, but the figure of Meg Merrilies became the popular subject of paintings and poetry, including John Keat’s poem “Meg Merrilies” (1818).

The portrait also draws on conventions of the pastoral in which a young maid, typically a shepherdess or milkmaid, rests in a rural landscape. Lady Montagu’s folk costume seems both to heighten the sense of exoticism, especially through the inclusion of a rosary that announces the Catholic loyalties of some continental peasants, and to temper the criminal associations of piracy with the idealized connotations of rural folk traditions. The apparent citation of a Byronic character, Haidée, speaks to a larger conflation of the artistic persona with the figure of the exoticized, even criminal, wanderer in the Romantic imagination.

For Flânerie: Strolling Amongst Aestheticized Selves of the Romantic Period:

This portrait exemplifies how cultural identities were commodified and circulated in the Romantic period. Lady Caroline has appropriated the costume, accessories, and setting of a fictional character, an identity that has come prepackaged from Byron’s poetry. She is represented as Haidée, the daughter of a pirate king, and wears traditional garments of the Italian peasantry. In addition to this literary role, Lady Caroline's folk dress, newly codified in the Romantic period, presents her as yet another commodified character. Yet Lady Caroline’s consumption of these prepackaged identities is hardly passive, and she retains a fashionable coiffeur and dress silhouette as signifiers of her own elevated social status. This mix of mainstream and marginalized fashions clarifies that Lady Caroline’s Byronic costume is just that: a costume that she would not wear in everyday life. Despite its extraordinary quality, however, this Byronic costume serves the same function as Lady Caroline’s everyday clothing, as both types of fashion are used to create a character or identity that the wearer assumes. By depicting Lady Caroline as a fictional character, Hayter continues the tradition of grand manner portraiture, represented in the Montagu family by Reynolds’s portraits of the Duchess of Manchester and Anne Dashwood. But instead of using mythological and Arcadian figures from a classical past, Lady Caroline Montagu in Byronic Costume appropriates a character from contemporary literature, a character that, although idealized, is a far cry from the Greco-Roman models of Reynolds’s day. Lady Caroline associates herself with the marginalized and criminal classes via their sanitized portrayal in the high art of Byron’s poetry, and it is because these exotic characters have been recast as artistic types that the daughter of the duke can safely appropriate them. By being represented as a Byronic heroine, Lady Caroline is further represented as an artistic type that is an element of both counter-culture and high-culture.
For Unsanctioned Wanderings:

Anawalt, Patricia Rieff. The Worldwide History of Dress. New York: Thames, 2007. Print.

Bryant, Barbara. "Hayter, George." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford UP, n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2009.

Courtney, W. P. “Calcraft, John, the younger (1765–1831).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 12 Mar. 2009.

Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: Batsford, 1984. Print.

McCalman, Iain, et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to The Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage. Ed. Charles Mosley. 107th ed. Vol. 2. Wilmington: Burke’s Peerage, 2003. Print.

Noon, Patrick. Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism. London: Tate, 2003. Print.

Norgate, G. Le G. and Lynn Milne. “Montagu, William, fifth duke of Manchester (1771–1843).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Jan. 2008. Web. 14 Mar. 2009.

Pine, L.G. and Bernard Burke. The New Extinct Peerage 1884-1971: Containing Extinct, Abeyant, Dormant and Suspended Peerages with Genealogies and Arms. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub., 1973. Print.

"Married." Newry Commercial Telegraph. 2 February 1828. n. pag. Ireland Home Page. Web. 21 June 2013.

Scott, Walter. Guy Mannering, or, The Astrologer. London: Ballantyne, 1815. Print.

For Flânerie: Strolling Amongst Aestheticized Selves of the Romantic Period:

Austin, Linda M. “Aesthetic Embarrassment: The Reversion To the Picturesque in Nineteenth-Century English Tourism.” ELH 74.3 (2007): 629-53. Print.

Bermingham, Ann. “The Picturesque and Ready-to-Wear Femininity.” The Politics of the Picturesque. Ed. Stephen Copley and Peter Gartside. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 81-119. Print.

Breward, Christopher. The Culture of Fashion. New York: Manchester UP, 1995. Print.

Bryan, James E. “Sir George Hayter’s Portrait of Lady Caroline Montagu.” Elvehjem Museum of Art Bulletin/Biennia Report (1997-99): UW-Madison, 2000. Print.

Campbell, Colin. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987. Print.

Garber, Marjorie. Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

McDayter, Ghislaine. Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture. New York: State U of New York P, 2009. Print.

Noon, Patrick. Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism. London: Tate, 2003. Print.

Reynolds, Joshua. Discourses on Art. Ed. Robert R. Wark. New Haven: Yale UP, 1975. Print. Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art.

Wilson, Frances. Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. Print.
George Hayter, British, 1792-1871, Portrait of Lady Caroline Montagu in Byronic Costume, 1831, oil on canvas, 77 1/4 in x 57 3/4 in (196.22 cm x 146.69 cm ), Evjue Foundation Grant purchase in honor of Mrs. Frederick W. Miller, 1993.44, Chazen Museum of Art.