The Mythological Muse: An Exploration of How Women Are Represented in Pre-Raphaelite Paintings
The Pre-Raphaelites: a brotherhood turned art movement that rebelled against the traditionalist values of the Royal Academy. In 1848 a group of seven artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Evert Millais, opposed the promotion and imitation of Raphael: Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. They believed art should be painted from real life. This ideology was further supported by art critic and patron John Ruskin who established the term ‘Truth to Nature’ in Modern Painters (1843). The brotherhood only lasted six years until 1854 but they arguably left a legacy which altered British art forever by starting a chain of counter cultures in art history.
However, this legacy is not solely theirs to claim. What dominates Pre-Raphaelite art is the image of women. Representations of women vary from Mythological influence, such as Proserpine; Jane Morris modelled as goddess of the underworld trapped by Hades (or Pluto) for eating forbidden pomegranate seeds, to Victorian themes surrounding the ‘Angel of the House’ or the ‘Fallen Woman’. These two key themes alone highlight what life was like for women during the 19th century. Oppressed by a patriarchal society woman did not have the same opportunities as men and any creative or independent thought was disregarded or worse. A second wave of feminist historians have shone the light on Pre-Raphaelite woman and ultimately this dissertation aims to praise the sisterhood including Elizabeth Siddal, Annie Miller and Jane Morris. In many cases they were artists in their own right but definitively they were the inspiration for the entire Pre-Raphaelite movement.
"…women are important in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. But while their faces are seen everywhere- in oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, – their voices are never heard." - Jan Marsh