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THE DEPICTION OF WOMEN IN PRE-RAPHAELITE ART

THE DEPICTION OF WOMEN IN PRE-RAPHAELITE ART

INTRODUCTIO

Study of pictorial works of John Millais, Gabriel Rossetti and William Hunt.

A picturial movement

The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood

- An artistic movement born in England in 1848 ;


- It appears in response to academic codes (Renaissance, classical model, Raphaël as reference) ;

- Aims : come back to the priors styles to Renaissance ;

- Various topics and references : religious subjects, medieval themes (Arthurian legends), literary references (Shakespeare), Greek mythology ;

- Main features : truth to nature, taste for details and complexity, presence of beauty and love.


Debate on the painting entitled The Transfiguration (1518-1520, Raphaël) : "should be condemned for its grandiose disregard of the simplicity of truth, the pompous posturing of the apostles and the unspiritual posture of the savior"


I. Woman as object of desire

GABRIEL DANTE ROSSETTI (1828-1896)

1844 : Royal Academy ;

Passions : medieval art, literature ;

Art : strong moral impact ;

Creation of an ideal of feminine beauty in the 19th century.

Main pictorial works

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, 1849.

Lady Lilith, 1868.

Beata Beatrix, 1872.

I. Woman as subject of desire : the instance of Lady Lilith. (1872-73)

- bush of flowers, an exterior element, juxtaposed with interior objects (chair, mirror, candles...)

- reflection of the mirror shows us a lively world combined with Lilith's hair

- Elisabeth Gitter: "as Rossetti's Lady Lilith painting suggests, the grand woman achieved her transcendent vitality partly through her magic hair, which was invested with independent energy: enchanting - and enchanted- her gleaming tresses both expressed her mythic power and were its source"

- a reference to the founding myth of feminine nature: "Lilith"

- an ambiguous image of feminine sexuality and culpability

- portrayal of women as devouring and powerful



Sonnet LXXVIII

Reference to "Body's beauty"

- Pictural creation and poetry are linked

- Poem draws attention to her sinister capacity of seduction
- Describes as a dangerous seductress

II. Representation of status of the woman in Victorian society

William Hunt (1827 - 1910)

He worked as an office clerk

1844 : Royal Academy of Arts and meeting with Millais

Main pictorial works

The Triumph of the Innocents, 1885.

The Lady of Shalott, 1888-1905.

The Light of the World, 1854.

II. Painting as denunciation of the status of women : the example of The Lady of Shalott (1888-1905).

- Reference to Tennyson's poem entitled "The Lady of Shalott"

- The painting illustrates the role and living conditions of women in Victorian society

- Tapestry represents Galahad presenting the Holy Grail to Arthur (medieval reference)

- Oval cockade of Mary's adoration (based on a work by Luca della Robbia that Hunt owned)


- Painting: criticism of the Victorian era

- Tom Barringer: "replicates in a medieval setting the Victorian ideology of separate spheres... woman's work is inside the home, while active work in the outside world remains a male preserve"

- Elizabeth Nelson: "perfectly embodies the Victorian image of the ideal woman: virginal, embowered, spiritual and mysterious, dedicated to her womanly tasks"




- Tragic love and women's death: topic liked by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

- Painting: illustration of the tension between women's private desires and the reality of their social responsibilities

III. Woman as victim : the instance of woman destroyed by love

John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

At 11 years old, he gets into the Royal Academy of Arts
1850s : the most fertile period of his pictorial art

Main pictorial works

The Order of Release, 1853.

The Return of the Dove to the Ark, 1851.

The Blind Girl, 1856.

III. Woman as victim : the instance of the woman destroyed by love in Mariana (1851).

- Woman represents in a sensuous pose

- Painting based on a poem entitled "Mariana in the Moated Grange" (1830), Alfred Lord Tennyson which, in turn, was inspired by Mariana's character created by Shakespeare (Measure for Measure)

- Mariana's posture reveals the desolation and impatience

- Stained glasses windows: the Annunciation (Chapel of Merton College in Oxford)

- Motto: "In coelo quies" means "In Heaven there is rest"



- Martin Meisel : "the stained-glass window depicting the Annunciation and the stylized animal and floral motifs on the wall behind her, separate Mariana from the natural world of life outside. The improvised altar table with candles and triptych also helps suggest the withdrawn, isolated life one associates with a nun."


- Tennyson's epigraph: "'My life is dreary -- / He cometh not' she said;/She said, 'I am aweary, aweary -- I would that I were dead'".




Focus on the treatment made by Rossetti : an interesting instance (Paolo & Fransesca, 1855)