Hair as Strength and Sensuality in Pre-Raphaelite Art

.”Of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.

The rose and poppy are her flower; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair. ” – by Rossetti

  Rossetti’s Lady Lilith   model:  Alexa Wilding

 Rossetti’s, “Aurelia”   model:  Alexa Wilding

  Cowper’s Rapunzel

  Cowper’s, “La Belle Dam sans Merci”

  Waterhouse’s, “Mariana in the South”.   Model:  Lizzie Siddal

    Millais’s, “The Bridesmaid”

and a rather strange version of Helen of Troy by Frederick Sandys 


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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I guess Sandys had a different idea of what “the most beautiful woman” meant. I’m always amazed at the hair in these paintings. Did women really have hair that was that thick and luxurious in days gone by? I don’t know anyone who could grow a head of hair like that these days. I blame it on the chemicals we ingest and are subjected to in the modern world.

  2. That’s exactly why I chose that painting by Sandys. It’s so striking and different. Certainly not how most people imagine Helen. I like how he thought so much outside the box.

    That was their real hair. Most of them crimped it, or wore wet braids to make the waves/curls.

    My hair is to my waist, and yes,- I stay away from most chemicals. Makes a big difference.

  3. A lot of red and gold in that collection. I think it has to do with the romantics obsession with the natural including lots of hair that by today’s standards looks rather unkempt (“bushy” comes to mind 😉 )but luxurious/energetic. I stark contracts to the preceding age of wiry hair and powdered wigs.

  4. Heya Ralfast,

    The Pre-Raphs are never far from their reds and gold. 🙂

    The freer, unkempt hair also fits their uncorsted, Dress Reform style.

  5. Yay! More pre-raphaelite art! Love it 🙂

  6. Hey Chazz,

    Me too. I can never get enough of the Pre-Raphaelites. 🙂

  7. I like looking at photos like these. It remind me of old movies where all the ladies wore their hair up in one and braids and only their husband and children could see them with their hair down. And when their hair is hanging for me it is like a wow. All that hair I would of never knew.
    Just like one of the young lady who was in my class. She is a Muslim. One day when it was just us female we were all talking about here. Her mother was telling us how she washes it every day and how much headache it is but she still does it. Her hair is always underneath a scarf. The day she shared her hair with us my mouth drop. Her Hair was in a tight twist wrap around with two long scarf to help it stay up. Her hair touched the floor and was just laying there. I would of never thought. For me that was princess hair.

  8. Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for sharing that story. Sounds beautiful. I can imagine all of your faces. 🙂

    Have you heard of Queen Sissi of Austria? Evidently, her hair touched the floor, too.

  9. No I haven’t but you bet your buns I will be googling her first thing in the morning.

  10. All I can say is wow. I just finish reading about Queen Sissi of Austria and found hair raising events:). She was a beautiful woman who had her share of bad lucks and misfortunes. Her first child died by her not listening to the doctor warning. Because of that her marriage drifted apart and she was not allow to take care of her own children any longer. Her son was murder when he was 30 and she was assassinated/murder by a lunatic who in the end did not care who he killed as long as it was a person out of royalty.

  11. She even had a Tarot deck created about her:

    Long out of print, limited edition of 3000. 😦

  12. Too cool! I wonder why they choose to use those 6 cards. I kind of figure out three but might be wrong. From the reading:
    The Lover – they did said that she had many lovers

    Wheel of Torture – perhaps the way her son died

    5 of cups – She was a socialite

    5 of swords – She died gutted by a knife

    These are just guesses but what does the other two associate with and if my guesses are wrong may you please clarify.

  13. Hey Vanessa,

    Yes, her life was really fascinating…and ultimately tragic. There’s been several German films made about her. I saw one, but must admit it was quite dreadful. It depicted her young years and was way too cutesy and simplified for my taste. ah well.

    p.s. your buns comment cracked me up. 🙂

  14. I don’t think the cards they chose to display had any significance. Under copyright law, they can only show a certain number of cards, and they probably just chose those at random, or they liked those especially.

  15. DD,

    Wow. Thanks for finding that.

    Can you imagine having a tarot named after you?? That’s so cool!

  16. lol, ok:)

    and Scarlett your p.s crack me up…buns and crack in the same sentence priceless, lol

  17. hahahaha!

    Must admit that was totally accidental.

    hee hee 🙂

  18. I know a girl I went to college with who can have done the sitting for “Millais’s, ‘The Bridesmaid'”–the resemblence (hair and all) is simply remarkable. I’ve lost touch with her, but I’m going to cruising Facebook now to see if I can find her and send her this link.

    There was another girl who studied Literature with me who could have been one of these girls. She had thick, THICK, golden red hair, and she had the face of the type of girls you see in these pictures. However, it’s interesting, because in today’s standards, she was looked at as being odd rather beautiful.

  19. Hey Jessica,

    I hope she embraced her so-called “oddness”.

  20. Yes, she did. She grew it out down to the top of her buttocks, and I only saw her pull it back once. 🙂

  21. Oh, gosh. Some beautiful ones here. And doesn’t Helen of Troy look petulant!

  22. Diane, she does!

    Probably pissed off that she’s blamed for starting the war.

  23. Pre-raphaelites = Per-fection!!
    I’m sure many women did have such lustrous hair, but just by the by, there are records of women both dying their hair and adding hair extensions (often horse hair) as far back as the Elizabethan era and earlier! I love hair, sadly mine NEVER grows!

  24. Hi Blaise!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. 🙂

    And yes, true what you wrote. Henna goes waaay back too, of course.

    btw, if you want to grow your hair…perhaps it is not because it won’t grow, but because you are cutting it too often? I realize how blatantly stupid that might sound. But I have come across people who want to grow their hair, yet are so used to getting that “4 week trim” that they run to the salon without thought. (rather than waiting until they actually need a tiny trim for maintenance) And then they believe their hair won’t grow, or grows abnormally slowly.

    People are surprisingly surprised how their hair grows when they give it the time to do so. 😉

    Of course that might not be your case, but just thought I’d mention.

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