Hamlet First Painting

Domenico Brugieri (Lucca, 1678-1744). Hamlet Forces King Claudius to Drink from the Poisoned Cup

The painting, belonging to the Marco Paoli's collection, appears to be a variation on a work, of unknown location, by the Venetian artist Antonio Molinari (1655-1704) depicting the Follia di Antioco ('The Madness of Antiochus'), a subject taken from Plutarch's Life of Demetrius, where is described the love between the young Antiochus, son of the Syrian ruler Seleuchus, and Stratonice, the young Seleucus's wife. Domenico Brugieri, who visited Venice in 1708, almost certaily saw Molinari's canvas on that occasion and made drawings of it. Despite the fact that Brugieri's painting is blatanly derived from Molinari's, the subject is not the Follia di Antioco. Substantial differences demonstrate that Brugieri intended to portray an entirely different subject matter.
The woman in Brugieri's canvas is not as young as Molinari's Stratonice, and she seems instead to be the mother of the young man with whom she is seen interacting. Molinari's Antiochus responds to the look given him by his beloved Stratonice; conversely, Brugieri's young male figure looks toward the king who is seated at the table. He raises the chalice in a dramatic gesture, and that movement becomes the focus of the entire scene. Furthermore, the older, bearded figure on the right side of Brugieri's canvas wears a biblical crown and is unsheating a sword, while his counterpart in Molinari's painting is neither armed nor crowned.
Brugieri thus made good use of Molinari's intriguing invention to introduce modifications that suited the composition to an alternative theme. That theme, however has no comparison in traditional banquet scenes, and is  deeply reminiscent of the tragic epilogue of Hamlet (Act V, Scene II).
Gertrude has just drunk from a chaliced of poisoned wine (in Brugieri's foreground an overturned pitcher is visible from which wine spills). She turns to his son and says, "No, no, the drink, the drink! - O my dear Hamlet! The drink, the drink! I am poisoned". Hamlet is depicted at the moment at which, warned by Laertes that Hamlet's Uncle Claudius has put poison in the wine, turns to the usurper, who has murdered first his father and now his mother, and declares, "Incestuous murderer - empty this! Drink - cursed one - have you found your pearl?". In effect, Hamlet in Brugieri's canvas brandishes the chalice as though it were a weapon, and Brugieri has given the cup, which holds the poison dissolved entirely in the wine, a pealescent interior. Hamlet's eyes are lightless, almost as though he were blinded by rage. Claudius is shown at the moment at which he realizes his plot has been uncovered and that he is at Hamlet's mercy. The biblical figure in the act of unsheathing his sword is not specifically part of the Shakespearean scene.
In conflict with this interpretation of the painting is the fact that, in Brugieri's time, Shakespeare was not known in Italy. Indeed, his work did not begin to circulate there until the last quarter of the 18th century. An Italian painting on a Shakespearean theme at that point in the century would, in fact, be cause for astonishment, given that the first paintings inspired by Shakespeare were produced by British painters as commissioned works in the United Kingdom. At the same time, however, a series of events that took place in Lucca in September 1722 and which involved James III (James Francis Edward Stuart), pretender to the thrones of England and Scotland who was in exile in Rome, confirm the hypothesis described thus far.
At the time, James III had already indicated his intention to transfer his place of residence to Lucca, and, in the summer of 1722, the geographical position of the city-state rekindled the Pretender's interest. Lucca was within easy reach of Genoa, where three ships waited to carry him to England as part of the jacobite insurrection (recorded by history as the Atterbury Plot) then in the planning stages. James III thus took advantage of the ill health of his wife, Maria Clementina Sobieska, who it was believed would benefit from the water cure in Bagni di Lucca.
So she arrived there on July 23th,and he followed on August 8th. It is known that the government of the Republic of Lucca treated james III and his wife as they would have any royal couple. In various documents they went so far as to refer to the Pretender as "His British Majesty". During his stay at the thermal springs in Bagni di Lucca James III was served by a Luccan aristocrat, Raffaello Mansi. On 10th September of 1722 James III involved Lucca in his political machinations by publishing, with the help of a local printing -house a four-page Manifesto addressed to his subjects in England, Scotland and Ireland, in which he promised that no inquiry would be launched against Geoge I Hannover if he had returned the crown to its rightful owner ("Given at our court at Lucca this present tenth of September, 1722, and in the twenty-first year of our reign").
Strongly symbolic aspects can be identified in Brugieri's painting to which both the human and political context of James III's life and the Shakespearean references are closely connected. The creation of the painting, then, must be seen as tightly bound to the Pretender's visit to the Lucca area and as a unique homage to James III and his campaign to recover the usurped crown.
Recently English storiography has accepted the strong nexus between Jacobite rhetoric - marked by the themes of usurpation and the proper reestablishment of lost power - and Shakespeare's Hamlet, a symbol of the struggle against the criminal theft of the throne and the redemtion of a nation that found itself in the hands of a tyrant. Shakespeare's tragedy is, however, because of its obvious correspondance to the life of James I, founder of the Stuart royal dynasty, also directly tied to the history of the Stuart line. James I was, like Hamlet, the son of a woman who married his father's murderer (the so-called 'Darnley Case'). As a result, in the eyes of James I's contemporaries, Hamlet would become a sort of mask for James I, given the analogies of their ages (thirty), personalities, and cultural interests.
But also the parallels between the Pretender and Hamlet became consistent, while the fascination of Shakespeare's genius was growing in the English educated classes. It was precisely for that reason that in 1722, the fateful year of Atterbury Plot and of James III's visit to Lucca, Nathaniel Mist - journalist and owner of England's most widely read newspaper, the Jacobite and anti-government weekly, The Weekly Journal or Saturday's Post - published in the June 9 issue (the day before the Pretender's birthday), an unusual quotation from Hamlet. The time was more than ripe for the explicit identification of the exiled Pretender with Hamlet, Shakespeare's symbolic victim of usurpation and tyranny, and a figure who was, in his way, also a 'pretender to the throne'; all of which explains the reasoning behind Brugieri's painting.
Clearly the painters and his patrons in Lucca (in primis Raffaello Mansi) required detailed information to depict the scene properly, and such details could only have come from the court of the Pretender, being that at the hightest levels of the Jacobite party Hamlet appeared in those very days. Both Francis Atterbury - the leader of the plot that bears his name- and Geoge Granville - the Jacobite editor of the text of the Manifesto that was printed in Lucca on September, 10, 1722 - were on familiar terms with Shakespeare's work. Both  Granville and Atterbury were in secret correspondence with James III, and it is highly likely that it was from these refined men of letters, involved at the highest levels in James III's political and military maneuverings, that the idea arrived in the Pretender's court of painting in Lucca an allegory of the Jacobite cause inspired by the character of Hamlet.
The scene, quickly rendered by Brugieri, was to serve as a kind of comparison piece to the political Manifesto of September 10, a visual announcement  that once again bore witness to the high  regard in which the Jacobites held the figurative arts.

Il 10 settembre del 1722 Giacomo III Stuart, Pretendente al trono inglese in esilio a Roma, convinto dalla benevolenza manifestata nei suoi confronti dal governo della Repubblica di Lucca e da rappresentanti del patriziato locale, decide di far stampare nella città un proclama rivolto ai sudditi di Inghilterra, Scozia e Irlanda, licenziato nientemeno che "dalla nostra corte a Lucca" ("Given at our court at Lucca"). Tre giorni prima, dopo mesi di preparativi volti ad organizzare la visita in città del personaggio, le autorità lucchesi hanno deliberato di ospitare il Pretendente nel palazzo di Raffaello Mansi (attuale sede del Museo Nazionale). La visita avviene effettivamente il 16 settembre, a conferma dell'interesse che i Lucchesi nutrono per lo Stuart, nella convinzione che la causa giacobita finisca per prevalere assicurando così alla Repubblica un "potentissimo protettore".
E' quindi assai probabile che il dipinto sia stato commissionato a Brugieri nell'occasione della visita del personaggio (protrattasi fino al 21 settembre), e che esso sia stato esposto nel palazzo dei Mansi come allegorico omaggio, e come manifesto pittorico da associare al manifesto politico uscito in quei giorni dai torchi lucchesi.
La raffigurazione di Amleto - simbolico pretendente ingiustamente escluso dal trono, nel momento in cui ha finalmente il sopravvento sull'usurpatore - è in tono con la retorica giacobita che vedeva nell'eroe shakespeariano il simbolo della causa legittimista; senza contare che Amleto era visto come una sorta di alter ego di Giacomo I Stuart, l'inauguratore della dinastia scozzese sul trono inglese, in quanto questi era figlio, come il personaggio della tragedia, di una donna che aveva sposato l'assassino del marito.
A questa luce acquista un preciso significato allegorico la figura del vecchio cinto della corona biblica, in atto di sguainare la spada: è il patriarca Giacobbe, re-pastore, da cui il nome dei sostenitori del Pretendente, Giacobiti appunto. La sua presenza è un chiaro riferimento al complotto organizzato in quelle stesse settimane del 1722 ai danni di Giorgio I di Inghilterra; un richiamo al braccio armato dei Giacobiti che avrebbe costituito una spina nel fianco dei monarchi Hannover, almeno fino al 1746.
E' evidente che i committenti lucchesi di Brugieri hanno fatto ricorso ad informazioni che solo la corte del Pretendente poteva loro fornire. E' un fatto che Francis Atterbury, principale organizzatore del complotto del 1722 e corrispondente epistolare dello Stuart, aveva familiarità con la tragedia di Shakespeare, al punto da citare a memoria una frase dell'Amleto in una lettera del luglio 1722 ad Alexander Pope,  letterato che mesi prima gli aveva inviato, ancora in versione manoscritta, la sua edizione delle opere del Bardo di Stratford. 
Per una bizzarra circostanza - motivata dall'ambizione (da lì a poco sfumata) dei Lucchesi di ingraziarsi il possibile futuro re d'Inghilterra -Amleto riceveva nel minuscolo stato toscano, a migliaia di miglia dalle coste britanniche, la sua prima raffigurazione pittorica e il suo primo, enigmatico volto.