Cosway, Maria Cecilia Louisa (DNB00)

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COSWAY, MARIA CECILIA LOUISA (fl. 1820), miniature painter, was born in Florence at an uncertain date. Her father, said by some to have been an Irishman by birth and by others a native of Shrewsbury, was named Hadfield. He kept an hotel at Leghorn, and was able to live in a luxurious style. She was one of several children, but she, a brother, and a younger sister were the only survivors of a tragical occurrence. A lunatic nurse killed four of Maria's brothers and sisters, under the persuasion that her victims would be translated at once to heaven, and was arrested after she had been overheard talking of murdering Maria. The nurse was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Maria was educated in a convent, and afterwards went to Rome, where she studied art under Battoni, Mengs, Fuseli, and Joseph Wright of Derby. On her father's death she expressed a strong desire to become a nun; her mother, however, brought her to England, where she became acquainted with Angelica Kauffmann, and took to miniature-painting, employing her talent chiefly in representing mythological subjects. In 1781 she exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy the following three works: ‘Rinaldo,’ ‘Creusa appearing to Æneas,’ engraved in mezzotint by V. Green, and ‘Like patience on a monument smiling at grief.’ In the same year she married Richard Cosway [q. v.], and it is recorded that her manners were so foreign that he kept her secluded till she mastered the English language. However, Mrs. Cosway soon made her reputation as an artist, especially when the portrait of the fair Duchess of Devonshire in the character of Cynthia was exhibited. Among her personal acquaintances were Lady Lyttelton, the Hon. Mrs. Damer, the Countess of Aylesbury, Lady Cecilia Johnston, and the Marchioness of Townshend. Some say that she ran away from her husband, while others tell us, on the contrary, that she led a happy life with him. There seems to be no doubt that Mrs. Cosway did on one occasion take a tour on the continent without her husband, accompanied by Signor Luigi Marchesi, an Italian tenor of great reputation, whose portrait Richard Cosway painted, and afterwards engraved by Luigi Schiavonetti (1790). During her residence in Lyons she sought the shelter of the cloister, and also made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin at Loreto, in fulfilment of a vow to do so if blessed with a living child. In 1804 she returned to London and resumed her art and evening parties. She now set out with her brother, George Hadfield, the artist, for Rome, which she was unable to reach through illness. She lived in north Italy for three years, and then came to England. The death of her only child, Louisa Paolina Angelica, during her absence threw Mrs. Cosway upon art once more, and she executed several pictures for chapels. The father had the child's body embalmed and placed in a marble sarcophagus; yet Walpole writes: ‘The man Cosway does not seem to think much of the loss.’ Again Mrs. Cosway went to France, notwithstanding the war between England and that country. In Paris she was persuaded by Cardinal Fetch to establish a college for young ladies. This, however, failed; but she afterwards carried out the plan at Lodi. Her sister Charlotte married Mr. W. Coombe, the author of ‘Dr. Syntax.’ The date of Mrs. Cosway's death is unknown. Some authorities say a few months after her husband's death in July 1821, and others that she was living in 1833. It is certain that in June 1826 she was in correspondence with the Italian engraver, Giovan Paolo Lasinio, junior, respecting the publication of her husband's drawings in Florence. The folio volume is entitled: ‘Raccolta di Disegni Originali scelti dai Portafogli del celebre Riccardo Cosway, R.A., e primo pittore del Serenissimo Principe di Wallia, posseduti dalla di lui vedova, la Signora Maria Cosway, e intagliati da Paolo Lasinio, figlio,’ Firenze, 1826. Among the many engraved portraits of her after her husband the following may be mentioned: by Valentine Green, Luigi Schiavonetti, Francesco Bartolozzi, Anthony Cardon, and a group with the title, ‘Abelard and Eloisa in the Garden of Fulbert's Country Residence at Corbeil,’ by R. Thew, 1789. Her principal works engraved and exhibited at the Royal Academy are: ‘Clytie,’ by V. Green; ‘The Descent from the Cross,’ by V. Green; ‘Astrea instructing Arthegal,’ by V. Green; ‘The Judgment on Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,’ by S. W. Reynolds; ‘A Persian,’ by Emma Smith; ‘H.R.H. the Princess of Wales and the Princess Charlotte,’ by S. W. Reynolds; ‘The Hours,’ by F. Bartolozzi; ‘Lodona,’ by F. Bartolozzi; ‘The Guardian Angel,’ by S. Phillips; ‘Going to the Temple,’ by P. W. Tomkins; ‘The Birth of the Thames,’ by P. W. Tomkins; ‘Creusa appearing to Æneas,’ by V. Green; ‘The Preservation of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego,’ by W. S. Reynolds; and ‘Louis VII, King of France, before Becket's Tomb,’ by W. Sharp. Mrs. Cosway drew ‘The Progress of Female Dissipation,’ and ‘The Progress of Female Virtue,’ published in 1800; besides, she brought out a series of twelve designs, entitled ‘The Winter's Day,’ contributed to Boydell's ‘Shakespeare Gallery’ and Macklin's ‘Poets’. She etched all the plates in a large folio work bearing the following title, ‘Gallery of the Louvre, represented by etchings executed solely by Mrs. Maria Cosway, with an Historical and Critical Description of all the Pictures which compose the Superb Collection, and a Biographical Sketch of the Life of each Painter, by J. Griffiths, &c. &c.,’ Paris, 1802, and numerous other plates, some in soft-ground etching, most of which are in the department of prints and drawings, British Museum.

[Clayton's English Female Artists, London, 1876, 8vo, i. 314; Cunningham's Lives of British Painters, London, 1836, 8vo, vi. 1; Smith's Nollekens and his Times, London, 1828, 8vo, ii. 392; manuscript notes in the British Museum.]

L. F.