Mary Astell

1666 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) – 1731 (Chelsea)

Astell was a significant feminist avant la lettre, whose writings arguing for equality via education were widely noted, including by Defoe, Steele (mockingly) and Samuel Richardson. She studied astronomy with Flamsteed in Greenwich, and tried to persuade her close friend Montagu to publish her ‘Turkish Letters’, writing a preface to them. Astell didn’t engage in London literary society, but associated with a group of independently-minded, mostly aristocratic women, including Montagu and Elstob. It is unknown whether or not Richardson knew her (they certainly had a friend in common) – his heroine Clarissa bore striking resemblances to the real Astell.

Mary Astell knew…

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giambattista Piranesi

1720 (Mogliano Veneto, Italy) – 1778 (Rome)

Piranesi’s powerful architectural etchings and engravings have strongly influenced artists, designers and writers from the Romantic age to the eras of classic film and the computer game. More of his prominent acquaintanceships have to be classed as possible (Canaletto, a known influence) or probable (Tiepolo, whose studio he almost certainly worked in, Winckelmann, who crossed swords with him in print, Kauffman and Nollekens) than definite. However he knew Ramsay, was visited by Soane, and had a close rapport over many years with Adam, to whom he dedicated an important work of architectural and archaeological polemic.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi knew…

Mary Wollstonecraft

1759 (London) – 1797 (London)

Wollstonecraft, Godwin, Blake, Fuseli, and Price were among the dissenter group centred around the publisher Johnson, who commissioned translations from her. Blake illustrated a children’s book she wrote. Fuseli and Wollstonecraft planned a trip together to Paris to observe the French Revolution, until Fuseli’s wife put an end to the idea. Wollstonecraft and her husband Godwin were distinctly unimpressed with each other when they met at a supper Johnson held for Paine; she died ten days after their daughter Mary (later Shelley) was born. Godwin later published her posthumous works.