Pre-Raphaelites and Shakespeare: Portia


The model for Millais’ painting of Portia has often been incorrectly identified as Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry. The model was Kate Dolan, although the mistake was understandable as she was painted wearing Ellen Terry’s costume:

Of course I will lend you the dress (here it is.) or anything in the world that I possess, that could be of the very smallest service to you.

The dress was away in Scotland being cleaned for storing, or I should have sent it to you before–

Yours sincerely,

Ellen Terry


(Dated March 30, 1886)

Portia is the heroine of The Merchant of Venice.  You may be familiar with one of her speeches:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Ellen Terry as Portia

Ellen Terry as Portia


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