A Space of Their Own

Maria Hadfield Cosway

June 11, 1760 – January 5, 1838

Active in: England, Italy, and France
Alternate names: née Hadfield


Born in 1760 in Florence to an Italian mother and an English father, Maria Hadfield Cosway would become famous throughout Europe for her portraits and social networks. As a young woman in Florence, Cosway studied with Violante Cerroti and Johann Zoffany. From 1773 to 1778, she copied Old Masters at the Uffizi Gallery and in 1778, she was admitted to the Accademia del Disegno. She moved to London in 1779, where she exhibited work at the Royal Academy and married fellow miniaturist Richard Cosway. In addition to her talents as a painter, she was an accomplished composer, musician, and society hostess. Cosway had a brief romantic affair with Thomas Jefferson in 1786 and they maintained their correspondence until his death in 1826. From 1803 to 1809, she directed a school for girls in Paris and after it closed, she founded a Catholic convent and girl’s school in Lodi, near Milan. She returned to England in 1821 to care for her husband until his death, moving to Italy soon after, where she lived until her own death in 1838.

Selected Works


Barnett, Gerald. Richard and Maria Cosway, A Biography. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1995.

Bermingham, Ann. The Consumption of Culture 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Bindman, David. “Thomas Banks’s ‘Caractacus before Claudius’: New Letters to and from Ozias Humphry.” Burlington Magazine 142 (2000): 769–72.

Borzello, Frances. Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits. New York: Harry Abrams, 1998.

Breton, M. L. “The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 10 (22 June to 31 December 1786).” Études Anglaises 8 (1955): 178.

Burnell, Carol. Divided Affections: The Extraordinary Life of Maria Cosway: Celebrity Artist and Thomas Jefferson’s Impossible Love. Lausanne: Column House, 2006.

Chapman, Caroline. Eighteenth-Century Women Artists: Their Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs. London: Unicorn, 2017.

Cometti, Elizabeth. “Maria Cosway’s Rediscovered Miniature of Jefferson.” William and Mary Quarterly 9 (1952): 152–55.

Fine, Elsa Honig. Women & Art: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. London: Allanheld & Schram, 1978.

Fortune, Jane, with Linda Falcone. Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence. Florence: Florentine Press, 2010.

Gipponi, Tino, ed. Maria e Richard Cosway. Torino: Umberto Allemandi, 1998.

Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.

Kaminski, John P. Jefferson in Love: Love Letters Between Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway. Madison, WI: Madison House, 1999.

Lloyd, Stephen. Richard and Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion. Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1996.

“Maria Cosway.” Georgian Gentleman. mikerendell.com/maria-cosway-nee-hadfield-1759-1838-painter-socialite-and-a-real-looker/.

“Maria Cosway (1760–1838).” Royal Academy of Arts. www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/name/maria-cosway.

“Maria Cosway Engraving.” Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation. www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/maria-cosway-engraving

“Maria Hadfield Cosway.” Artnet, Pace Gallery. www.artnet.com/artists/maria-hadfield-cosway/.

“Maria Hadfield Cosway – Artworks.” The Athenaeum. www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?m=a&s=tu&aid=5300.

Rice, Howard C. “Jefferson in Europe a Century and a Half Later: Notes of a Roving Researcher.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 12 (1950): 19–35.

Thomas Jefferson to Maria Hadfield Cosway, Letterpress Copy of “Head and Heart” Letter. October 12, 1786. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mtjbib002293/.

Van Pelt, Charles B. “Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway.” American Heritage 22 (1971). http://www.americanheritage.com/content/thomas-jefferson-and-maria-cosway

Williamson, George Charles. Richard Cosway, R. A., and His Wife and Pupils: Miniaturists of the Eighteenth Century. London: George Bell and Sons, 1897.

Williamson, George Charles. Richard Cosway, R. A. London: George Bell and Sons, 1905.

Willkens, Danielle S. “Thomas Jefferson, Sir John Soane and Maria Cosway: The Transatlantic Design Network, 1768–1838.” PhD Dissertation, University College, London, 2015.

Willkens, Danielle S. “Reading Words and Images in the Description(s) of Sir John Soane’s Museum.” Architectural Histories 4 (2016): 5.