Pyramus and Thisbe

'Thisbe', John William Waterhouse

The tale of Thisbe comes from book four of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In ancient Babylon, the families of Pyramus and Thisbe live in separate houses that share a roof. Over time, the two youths fall in love but are forbidden by their parents to see each other. Undaunted, the lovers use a crack in the wall…
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Exploring Rossetti’s Home

'D.G. Rossetti and Theodore Watts-Dunton in the sitting room at Cheyne Walk.  Watercolour by Henry Treffry Dunn

“I was ushered into one of the prettiest and most curiously furnished old-fashioned parlours that I had ever seen. Mirrors and looking-glasses of all shapes, sizes and design lined the walls. Whichever way I looked I saw myself gazing at myself.”–Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle (Cheyne walk life), Henry Treffry Dunn. Henry…
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Her enchanted hair

Lady Lilith, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1868

And  her enchanted hair was the first gold./And still she sits, young while the earth is old –from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sonnet Lady Lilith Lilith appears here with pale skin and clad in a white gown, making her luxurious hair the most vivid thing in the room.  In this painting, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is not…
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Millais’ Ghostly Apparition

'Speak! Speak!', Sir John Everett Millais

When it comes to ghost stories, the Victorians were absolutely the best. It was an era that birthed Industrialism and scientific discovery, yet people held firmly to superstition and folklore. Death closely hovered around every family, regardless of wealth or class. Mourning was so common that there were societal rules about it that were to…
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Nature as Feminine

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

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…
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William Morris and Fantasy

Burne-Jones illustration for 'The Wood Beyond the World'

William Morris’ fantasy books resonate with my bibliophile heart. Epic voyages told through folkloric narratives, his fantasies contributed to the birth of the Fantasy genre as we know it. As if that weren’t enough, he presented these works to the world in breathtaking volumes that are the epitome of typography and ornament.   It is his…
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Welcoming Autumn

'Autumn Leaves', Sir John Everett Millais

I’m particularly happy to welcome Autumn this year, with its crisp breezes and the promise of adventure.  Autumn Leaves, painted by Sir John Everett Millais, is a wonderful example of the beauty I find in the season.  It is an impressive example of a Pre-Raphaelite twilight and Millais has captured an unmistakable Autumn glow.  His…
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Exploring the Beauty of Melancholy

Lachrymae, Frederic, Lord Leighton

“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thought” –Percy Bysshe Shelley At what point in human history did we decide that in music, a slow tempo is sad while upbeat music with a faster beat is happy?  Instinctively we have always known that certain music and art reflects a sense of melancholy.  While…
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Upcoming Exhibit: A Victorian Obsession

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Leighton House Museum has announced an upcoming exhibit: A Victorian Obsession (November 2014 – March 2015), which will present fifty exceptional and rarely exhibited paintings by leading Victorian artists including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne Jones and Lord Leighton himself amongst others. The collection which belong to Mexican collector Juan…
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Katabasis: Descend into Hell

'Proserpine', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

After my recent post on Dante’s Divine Comedy, I’ve been thinking about metaphorical descents into the Underworld.  The rather beautiful Greek word for descent is katabasis, usually used to describe a hero’s journey into the underworld on a quest of some sort.  It’s a journey seen in not only a  variety of myths, but multiple…
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La Mandolinata

La Mandolinata, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

La Mandolinata is an excellent example of opulence in jewelry in Rossetti’s work.  Complementing her brocade gown, we see that familiar spiral hair pin set among strands of pearls. (I love pearls in Pre-Raphaelite art.  See The Pursuit of Pearls and More Pre-Raphaelite Pearls) The necklace is similar in style to the one seen in Rossetti’s…
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Shades of Dante

'Paolo and Francesca de Rimini', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Victorian poet, painter and co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, grew up in the shadow of Dante Alighieri.  Although he lived several centuries before, Medieval poet Alighieri was a permanent fixture in the Rossetti household. Rossetti’s father, Professor Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian expatriate who came to London in 1824. He was a…
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Pre-Raphaelites and Shakespeare: The Tempest

In The Tempest, Shakespeare tells us the story of Prospero, duke of Milan.  Prospero was dethroned by his brother Antonio and abandoned at sea with his three year old daughter Miranda.  Eventually they landed on an enchanted island, where the sole inhabitant is the creature Caliban.  Prospero works his magic and places Caliban and all…
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