David Atkinson Lighting Design (DALD) recently lit the Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The story of Emma Hamilton is one of female power and achievement in a man’s world, against all odds. Born into poverty in 1765, she rose to be a muse for famous artists, an influential ambassador’s wife, a European cultural icon and Lord Nelson’s mistress – before facing prison and dying in destitution.
Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity traces her spectacular career from rags to riches and back again through over 200 objects, great paintings by George Romney, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, and heartfelt letters between Emma and her lovers. The exhibition also explores the obstacles and social barriers for a woman of her time in the public eye, many of which still resonate today.
The exhibition designers Hara Clark’s brief to DALD was for the lighting to create a series of meandering transitional scenes throughout Emma Hamilton’s life that would add a sensitive yet theatrical approach to the exhibition, as well as adhering to the strict conservation constraints.
The journey starts in ‘Covent Garden’, which is bathed in red light with the paintings and objects being lit in soft diffused and shuttered light. From Covent Garden one enters the Muse Gallery, which feature three large Georgian window shadows being projected across the floor with a series of closely hung paintings being offset against pink walls with incidental dabs of light.
To help animate the next transition to Naples from England a series of LED water ripple projectors bathe the space in refracted light, which then links into the warmth of Naples, which is evoked by softly focused projections of palm leaves, with the walls being lit in light hues of pale yellow/straw.
The next space ‘Student’ consists of an externally printed gauze drape, which is lit by a series LED wash light sources in a complementing light hue of blue.
During her stay in Naples Emma developed what she called her ‘Attitudes’, an idea of combining classical poses with modern allure. The ‘Attitudes’ space used digital projection to show a representation of Emma’s classical poses and movement. Suspended voile drapes within the space were lit by soft dappled warm light and carefully balanced not to detract from the digital projection.
The next scene within the exhibition ‘Political Agent’, a circular space, consists of a series of showcases lit by fibre optics, with prints and paintings tightly lit from overhead and backed by a series of drapes up lit in a deep amber/gold to represent opulence.
From ‘Political Agent’ the journey home to England is represented by hints of green broken light across the floor and walls, which then leads into a more subdued lit space called ‘Homemaker’, which is an immersive internal space of paintings, showcases and objects which are offset against deep green walls, lit with light hues of green to add depth and a sense of intimacy.
The final Journey through to ‘Mourner’ (the death of Lord Nelson) and completing the journey of Emma as a ‘Pauper’ is lit at a low level with paintings and objects illuminated by tightly controlled sources.
The lighting helped delineate the different scenes within the exhibition in a subtle yet dramatic theatrical way, through the use colour, texture, tone and controlled lighting techniques.
DALD chose a combination of LED based lighting fixtures, which included Concorde Beacon Muse (with adjustable optic), Philips Selecon Display Profiles fitted with diffuser lenses and filters to illuminate objects, prints, paintings and text panels. 100w Studio style LED Fresnel’s were used to illuminate drapes. Dimmed Tungsten based ETC Zoom profiles were used to project dappled light.