This charming little oval-format painting on copper, which forms part of the exhibition in the Prado Museum, “Closeted Beauty, from Fra Angelico to Fortuny,” has as much to do with social notes of its time in 1785 as it does with aviation. It was painted by Jean-Francis Rigaud and portrays the actress, Leticia Anne Sage, the first Englishwoman to fly in a hot-air balloon; the Tuscan pilot, Vicenzo Lunardi, the first man to take a hot-air balloon into English skies; and a certain Mr. Biggins, another 18th-century British jet setter.
This event took place just two years after the Montgolfier Brothers had made the world’s first hot-air balloon flight in Paris. At the last minute the pilot, Lunardi, stepped out of the gondola in order to save weight and permit the balloon to rise. It seems that Miss Sage, who was obviously retouched in the painting, weighed almost 90 kilos.
The commentary is by Gabriele Finaldi, Adjunct Director of Conservation and Research at the Prado Museum.
Video courtesy of the Prado Museum