Pippa Passes

Pippa Passes, Elizabeth Siddal
Pippa Passes, Elizabeth Siddal

Elizabeth Siddal, discovered in a millinery shop, was not content to be merely an artist’s model. In an era where women were not encouraged to achieve anything other than a good marriage, Lizzie expressed a desire to learn and develop her craft.

True, she did not have the advantages that others in the Pre-Raphaelite circle enjoyed. She could not have entered the Royal Academy at  a young age as Millais had, nor could she have sent a simpering and flattering letter to Ford Madox Brown as Rossetti had done, procuring Brown as a mentor (after convincing Brown that the letter was genuine and not an attempt to mock).

I’ve seen Siddal’s work criticized as derivative of Rossetti’s, which has to be natural to a certain extent. She was his pupil, after all.And they worked in such close quarters that it can not be helped that he would influence her work a great deal.  I speak, though, as someone who holds a fascination for Elizabeth Siddal.  I am neither an art critic or a  scholar. But I am convinced that over the years too many authors and critics have looked at Lizzie’s work mainly in the shadows of Rossetti’s and fail to judge her work on its own merits.

One of my favorite drawings of Lizzie’s is an illustration of Pippa Passes, a poem by Robert Browning.

Pippa is a naive, innocent girl and Browning’s poem follows her as she travels through the tough neighborhoods of Asolo. Lizzie chose to illustrate the passage where Pippa encounters a group of prostitutes.

Pippa stands erect and tall, which is interesting to me since Lizzie’s own perfect posture has been frequently mentioned. The prostitutes have sort of sly, mocking glances while Pippa’s face is passive.  Lucinda Hawksley describes their body language well in Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel:

“Pippa holds herself awkwardly, her spine and head held proudly erect with her right arm brought in close to her body as though protecting herself; the “loose women” are more fluid in their movements, at ease with their bodies and openly curious about her.”

I think that Lizzie’s illustration of Pippa Passes demonstrates that at this time (1854), her work was definitely progressing and improving. I can see so much potential for what Lizzie’s body of work could have become had the circumstances of her life been different.  And then we fall into playing the “what if” or the “if only” game, as we do with so many other famous talents struck down before fully making their mark.  I don’t want to play that game.  Instead, I choose to use it as an inspiration – a method to inspire me to remember that I have this day and these circumstances which far more talented women in the centuries before me could never have enjoyed.

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5 Replies to “Pippa Passes”

  1. I love this post, Stephanie!

    The sketch is fascinating. I was immediately struck by the difference in postures between Pippa and the other women. Amazing what a stance can say about a person! Of course, the other women are also showing a bit more skin as well–not to mention the jewellery and elaborate hairstyles.

    It’s so interesting (and sort of sad) to think how things might have been different for Lizzie if she’d lived today.

  2. Thank you for this post.I think “Pippa passes” has much beauty and shows the talent Lizzie obviously possessed .I totally agree with Margaret,looking at this picture and it’s beauty and skill is rather bittersweet,that had lizzie lived in times that were more enlightened,who knows what heights she would have reached.xx

  3. Great sketch, but have you seen Ms. Siddal’s other work? Her life is sad indeed. Would so much fuss have been made had Ms. Siddal not been so beautiful? Yes she is a tragic romantic figure; ornamental at best and addicted to laudanum. Had she been a plain jane I doubt she or work be so idolized.

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