The Death of Sigismonda

WAG 4045


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this is based on the story of Sigismunda, which William Hogarth (1697-1764) and others had recently illustrated. It has been retold by John Dryden (1631-1700) in one of his fables based on Boccaccio's Decameron. Sigismunda poisoned herself after her father Tancred presented her with the heart of her lover Guiscardo in a goblet. Previously titled 'The Death of Cordelia' but deviating considerably from the action in King Lear, this cartoon is one of two Tancred subjects which Romney tackled. ‘Cartoon’ here refers to the word in its old sense of a preparatory, full-size drawing for a later, finished painting. They are constructed of several pieces of handmade paper pieced together to create a large surface on which to work. The 18 cartoons in the Walker’s collection are the only ones surviving of groups of drawings Romney made exploring scenes from literature and mythology. It is likely that Romney explored the cartoon form over a period of ten years, if not longer, from about 1775. Romney’s son John (1757-1832) wrote to William Roscoe (1753-1831) that the cartoons ‘were executed in the winter evenings by candlelight as a relaxation when Mr. Romney’s mind had been jaded by portrait painting during the day’.