Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Lady of Shalott and Pre-Raphaelite Women

The book I just finished reading, Pre-Raphaelite Art in the Victoria & Albert Museum, had an interesting quote. I'd love to know what everyone thinks of it.


All three artists, Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Sandys, were more interested in depicting their ideal of feminine beauty than exploring the characters of real women. By the mid-1860s, they had established a 'type', and sought models who would conform to this image. They may not have been reproducing the conventional prettiness of the Victorian Miss, nor the placid features of Raphael's Virgins, which the early PRB tried so hard to avoid, yet Rossetti's voluptuous allegories, and Burne-Jones' sensitive waifs, were figments of their imagination rather than studies from nature. The aspirations of the women who modeled for these paintings, or who created works of art in their own right, were often obscured by the image constructed by the male artist. The fate of the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle can sometimes resemble that of the Lady of Shalott. In her own sphere she is a singer and a weaver, but when she becomes subject to the male gaze, her skills are overlooked. In Lancelot's eyes, she is significant only because 'She has a lovely face.'
-pg 133

I thought the parallel between the Pre-Raphaelite women and the Lady of Shalott was incredibly inspired.

4 comments:

Linden said...

Very interesting. And yes, inspired.

Lylassandra said...

Going back through the archives...

Actually, someone in my Victorian poetry class pointed out that Sir Lancelot gets a really bad rap here. After all, he's never seen this woman before; she just floats up dead. While everyone else reacts with fear, he comments on the only thing left to be said of her: she has a lovely face. He didn't know her at all, let alone well enough to say anything else about her. His significance in the poem is solely due to the Lady's interior life, and the reader's prenotions about him.

Grace said...

Well, he's certainly not to be blamed for the Lady's death...it was HER choice to get up and see the real world. It's just sad to think that in the context of Victorian times, a woman's worth was mostly tied up in her appearance.

Anonymous said...

In the versions of the story in which he hasn't met her, she hasn't met him, either. The descriptions of how he looks riding along the river in the sunshine are some of the best descriptions of pure male beauty I can think of.