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 

Pre-Raphaelite Artist: Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Sparteli (later Stillman) was born on March 4,  1844 to Greek immigrants living in London.   While females are mostly known as the famous muses/models of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (and Marie, herself, did pose for Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti),  Marie became a renowned artist in her own right.

  Kelmscott Manor

Her father enjoyed throwing garden parties in which he was noted for inviting up and coming artists.  It was during one of these gatherings that Marie met the famous writer and critic, Swinburne.  It may have been through this meeting that she was later introduced to the wider Pre-Raphelite circle.

  Love’s Messenger

She began studying art under the tutelage of Madox Brown in 1864.   Like the other Pre-Raphaelites, Marie  was enamored with Shakespeare, Dante, and Boccaccio, amongst others.

  Dante and Beatrice

At the age of twenty- seven, she wed the American painter and journalist, William Stillman.  Together, they split their time between London, Rome, and Florence.   

Marie and William had three children.  Unfortunately, the youngest son died as an infant.  However, her eldest, Michael, moved to the United States as and adult where he became a successful architecht.  Her daughter, Sonia Zuckerman, is still alive, and is known for her philanthropical works.

Marie died on March 6, 1927.  After being cremated, her ashes were interred in her father’s tomb.

  A Rose from Armida’s Garden

  Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni

Pre-Raphaelites: Truth to Nature

  Bocca Baciata by Rossetti (model: Fanny Cornforth)

 William Hunt’s, Awakening Conscience


  Millais, Eve of St. Agnes

In 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  By autumn, they were joined by William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, and Frederic George Stephens.  Believing that the  methods taught by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the founder of The English Royal Academy of Arts, were too formulaic and frivilous, they wished to return art to the lofty “truth to nature.”  They turned their attentions away from Raphael (whose work they considered too theatrical) and back to the artists who came before him- appreciating the more simplistic, yet detail-riched,  and vibrant colors of  the past.

They declared their main goals were:

  • To have genuine ideas to express;
  • To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;
  • And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.
  •   Rossetti’s, Lady Lilith

     Rossetti’s, Damozel


      Rossetti’s, Bower Meadow

    The Pre-Raphaelitess were also influenced by Romanticism which emphasized that individual freedom and responsibility were inseparable, and  aimed to only paint earnest subjects.   Their style was remarkably focused as they insisted on painting from direct observation.  Therefore, while many of their subjects came from poetry, legends, and plays, they were drawn in an intensely realistic manner. 

    The painters went through great lengths to achieve this photographic realism.  (as did their models)  One famous example of this is the painting, Ophelia, by Millais.  For four months, he painted the wildflowers and vegetation on one exact spot  in Surrey, England.  He then returned to London to paint his model, Elizabeth Siddal, posing in a bath full of water,  to capture the doomed woman’s demise as accurately as possible.

    In 1872,  Dante Rossetti also used Siddal  in his painting, Beata Beatrix.  In it, he depicted Elizabeth as the Beatrice of Dante Alighieri’s poem, La Vita Nuova, at her moment of death.   Dante Rossetti had to paint Elizabeth Siddal from old drawings he had of her.   For his favorite  model (and his wife) had been dead, herself, for ten years.