This is one of five podcasts produced by the Open University to accompany the exhibition ‘The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London 2011-2012. This show presents a vivid spectacle of femininity, fashion and theatricality in seventeenth and eighteenth-century England. It features portraits of some of the best known female performers of the period, who ranged from royal mistresses to successful writers and businesswomen, and accomplished musicians. It explores the ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and increase their professional status. Featuring much-loved masterpieces alongside recently-discovered works, the fascinating life-stories and public images of actresses such as Nell Gwyn, Kitty Clive, Hester Booth, Lavinia Fenton, Sarah Siddons, Elizabeth Linley, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan are represented in portraits by renowned artists including Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner and James Gillray.