Portrait of Lord Byron

Description: 

This print portrays Lord Byron as the quintessential Romantic poet. He sits in three-quarter view, his face turned in profile to the left and resting on his right hand in the archetypal thinking pose. His short curly hair is slightly ruffled, and he wears an elegant shirt that is slightly open at the neck, a rumpled coat, and a cape draped over his left shoulder. A clasp or pin at his collar is his sole ornament. Byron appears to be sitting in a cave that opens onto a sublime landscape, dimly seen, of mountains, rugged terrain, moonlight, and clouds.

Accession Number: 

CA 13975

Height (in centimeters): 

11

Width (in centimeters): 

9

Printing Context: 

This image appears as the frontispiece in The Works of Lord Byron, Including the Suppressed Poems. Also a Sketch of his Life by J.W. Lake, Complete in One Volume (Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1841).

Associated People: 

Lord Byron (1787-1824)


Lord Byron was an important British Romantic poet. His fame derives from both his celebrated poems and his extravagant life, which included numerous scandals, debts, travels, and military exploits. His bisexual love affairs also became part of his codified persona (Garber 323). Among his best known works are the narrative epic poems Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818) and Don Juan (1819-1824, incomplete at Byron’s death); the satirical English Poets and Scotch Reviewers (1809); and a group of poems known as the Oriental Tales: "The Giaour" (1813), "The Bride of Abydos" (1813), "The Corsair" (1814), and "Lara" (1814). Lord Byron is often considered the first modern celebrity, as well as the epitome of the literary type, the "Byronic hero," that he developed. The British public’s fascination with his life and works is often referred to as Byromania, and he was also particularly celebrated in Greece, where he died fighting against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence.


The Byronic Hero


Byron is credited with creating poetical protagonists that came to be known as Byronic heroes. A flawed yet idealized anti-hero, this type usually combines great talent and passion with a lack of respect for societal rules and privileges. Often portrayed in rebellion or exile, the Byronic hero can be thwarted in his pursuit of love by the scandals of his secret past, societal constraints, or death. His hubris often contributes to his self-destruction.

Associated Texts: 

This engraving is a reproduction of Richard Westall's painting: George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, 1813. Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 in. (91.4 x 71.1 cm). London, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4243.

Subject: 

This print portrays Lord Byron as the quintessential Romantic poet, as well as the Byronic hero formulated and featured in his own works.

Significance: 

This reproduction engraving of Lord Byron attempts to represent the Romantic poet’s inner creative genius through external visual form and to depict Lord Byron as a Byronic hero. A number of devices are used to accomplish these aims. Byron is shown in an archetypal thinking pose, demonstrating that the poet’s labor is intellectual. His brooding stare, depicted in his wide-open eyes and hunched eyebrows, further suggests that the poet’s products are created from his inner vision. Byron’s attire—his elegant yet casually ruffled clothing and hairstyle—alludes to the Byronic hero’s disdain for authority and social convention. Finally, the presence of a sublime landscape in the background, with its vast mountains, obscuring clouds, and moonlight, signifies the vast greatness not only of nature but also of Byron’s intellectual and artistic genius. This engraving, printed in the United States sixteen years after Byron’s death, demonstrates the continued significance of the Byronic type into the Victorian period and the wider English-speaking world. The image’s conflation of the historical Lord Byron, the fictional Byronic hero, and the professional Romantic poet points to the slippage that artistic types generated between art and life, fiction and reality.

Bibliography: 

Barker-Benfield, G.J. The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Print.


Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Ed. James T. Boulton. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1968. 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.


Haggerty, George E. “Psychodrama: Hypertheatricality and Sexual Excess on the Gothic Stage.” Theatre Research International 28.1 (2003): 20-33. Print.


Kriz, Kay Dian. The Idea of the English Landscape Painter: Genius as Alibi in the Early Nineteenth Century. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997. Print.


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


Rovee, Christopher. Imagining the Gallery: The Social Body of British Romanticism. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006. Print.


Wilson, Frances. Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. Print.

Long Title: 

Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron, 1788-1824. The works of Lord Byron: including the suppressed poems: also a sketch of his life / by J.W. Lake . . . Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1841. Special Collections (Memorial Library) CA 13975
 
 

Painter: 

 
 

Image Date: 

1841
 

Publisher: 

Grigg & Elliot
 

Creation Technique: 

 

Support Medium: 

 
 

Style: