petrusplancius (petrusplancius) wrote,

The apotheosis of Penelope Boothby

This curious painting by Henry Fuseli, dating from 1792, shows Penelope Boothby, the daughter of a Derbyshire landowner, Sir Brooke Boothby, being carried up to heaven by an angel. Sir Brooke (1744-1824) was a poet and aesthete, and an ardent disciple of Rousseau; he is perhaps best remembered now for this striking portrait of him by Joseph Wright of Derby, which shows him reclining in a glade with a volume of Rousseau:


He had a single child, Penelope, who was born in 1785. This portrait of her by Sir Joshua Reynolds shows her at the age of 4. When she died a year later at the age of 5, Boothby was utterly distraught; in fact he seems to have become a bit unhinged, and his wife left him to return to her parents. He commissioned the painting above by Fuseli, and also a most remarkable funeral monument in Carrara marble by Thomas Banks:



This beautiful image, which shows her asleep, can be seen in St Oswald's Church in Ashbourne (Boothby lived nearby at Ashbourne Hall). He wrote a volume of sonnets in memory of his daughter, some of which can be found here:

This one refers to her monument:

Well has thy classick chisel, Banks, express'd
The graceful lineaments of that fine form,
Which late with conscious, living beauty warm,
Now here beneath does in dread silence rest.
And, oh, while life shall agitate my breast,
Recorded there exists her every charm,
In vivid colours, safe from change or harm,
Till my last sigh unalter'd love attest.
That form, as fair as ever fancy drew,
The marble cold, inanimate, retains;
But of the radiant smile that round her threw
Joys, that beguiled my soul of mortal pains,
And each divine expression's varying hue,
A little senseless dust alone remains.

By way of a postscript, here is a photograph by Lewis Carroll showing a little girl posing as Penelope Boothby (as in Reynolds' portrait):
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