Nature as Feminine

'Listening to My Sweet Pipings', John William Waterhouse

‘Listening to My Sweet Pipings’, John William Waterhouse.  Earth reclines as Pan serenades her.

In Listening to my Sweet Pipings, Waterhouse has shown the figure of Earth reclining as Pan serenades her.  Notice that Earth holds a poppy in her hand while Pan wears one in his hair.  The title of Waterhouse’s painting is taken from Hymn of Pan by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The notion of Nature as feminine is an ancient one, dating back to Gaia of Greek myth. Gaia is probably the first ‘Mother Nature’ figure and she is depicted as a Primordial Goddess.

Gaia with her four children (the four seasons). The god Aion is seen in the background. (Mosaic tile from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the third century BC,)

Gaia with her four children (the four seasons). The god Aion is seen in the background. (Mosaic tile from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the third century BC)

Sir Edward Burne-Jones shares his vision of the goddess of nature in Earth Mother.

'Earth Mother', Sir Edward Burne-Jones

‘Earth Mother’, Sir Edward Burne-Jones

'At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away', Valentine Cameron Prinsep

‘At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away’, Valentine Cameron Prinsep

In Prinsep’s At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away, the vivid contrast of the two figures gives us a dramatic representation of Winter touching Summer.  Summer drops her flowers and they cascade around her.  Her end has come, nature’s cycle continues to turn.

It’s common to see Pre-Raphaelite artists’ and their followers depict the seasons as female.  Walter Crane depicted them together in The Masque of the Four Seasons while Burne-Jones depicted them individually in a series.

'The Masque of the Four Seasons', Walter Crane

‘The Masque of the Four Seasons’, Walter Crane

Burne-Jones Four Seasons:

'Autumn', Burne-Jones

‘Autumn’, Burne-Jones

'Winter', Burne-Jones

‘Winter’, Burne-Jones

'Spring', Burne-Jones

‘Spring’, Burne-Jones

'Summer', Burne-Jones

‘Summer’, Burne-Jones

In an era that was the birth of Industrialism and scientific reason, to see Nature personified as Divine Feminine was perhaps a way to hold on to its magic and beauty.

I sang of the dancing stars,
I sang of the dedal earth,
And of heaven, and the Giant wars,
And love, and death, and birth.
And then I changed my pipings,–
Singing how down the vale of Maenalus
I pursued a maiden, and clasped a reed:
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus;
It breaks in our bosom, and then we bleed.
All wept–as I think both ye now would,
If envy or age had not frozen your blood–
At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.  (excerpt from Shelley’s Hymn of Pan)

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