Celebrating Shakespeare

Happy Birthday to William Shakespeare, born on this day in 1564.  Today is also the anniversary of the Bard’s death.  Dare I say it?  Dying on your birthday is a dramatically Shakespearean thing to do. When a young group of artists founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 they drew up a list of ‘Immortals’, made…
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It’s Earth Day!

In Modern Painters, John Ruskin urged artists to “go to nature in all singleness of heart… rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth.” The Pre-Raphaelites and their followers took this advice to heart. In Millais’ Ophelia, for example, we can see…
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Circe the Enchantress

The works of John William Waterhouse often blend feminine beauty and mystery.  Above is Circe Invidiosa, his depiction of the goddess Circe. With a sumptuous  blend of greens and blues, he created a world that draws us in and mesmerizes. It’s as if you can feel yourself transported into Circe’s world. You can hear the water…
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Menacing Beauty

“There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck.” – Radiohead, “There, There” Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse depicts a scene from Jason and the Argonauts.  Hylas was the son of King Theiodamas, who was killed in battle by Herakles.  Herakles then raised Hylas as his own. Known for both his striking beauty and his…
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Painting the Soul

At the age of twenty-one, Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote the short story Hand and Soul, which was published in The Germ, a short-lived magazine created by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.    Not only does the story  offer a glimpse into the young Rossetti’s beliefs and aspirations  but it seems to be the only work of fiction…
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The Witch’s Heart

This morning I shared on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Facebook page  Edward Poynter’s portrait of Georgiana Burne-Jones, wife of Sir Edward Burne-Jones who was an important figure in the second wave of Pre-Raphaelitism.   In ‘The Last Pre-Raphaelite’ biographer Fiona MacCarthy describes the watch Georgie’s wearing on a chain as a “ball-shaped gold watch studded with chrysolites…
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Lamia, seductive and monstrous

Seen above is Lamia, the Serpent Woman by Anna Lea Merritt.  Be wary of her beauty, for she means to consume you. In mythology, Lamia is a mistress of Zeus and her affair with him angered Hera so much that she transformed Lamia’s children into monstrous beings.  Grief-stricken, Lamia devours any child she finds, thus…
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Pan, Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Above is a detail from Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Pan from The Wind in the Willows. I first became enchanted by Pan when, as a little girl, I read The Wind in the Willows. I was in love with that book from the moment Mole became fed up with his spring-cleaning, left his hole, and met…
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Then be not coy, but use your time

For the title of his 1909 painting Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, John William Waterhouse used a line from the poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick (1597-1674) Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today Tomorrow will be…
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Lyres of Waterhouse

In 1900 John William Waterhouse painted Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, which shows the discovery of Orpheus’ decapitated head floating next to his lyre. Orpheus was given the lyre by the god Apollo and it was the Muses that taught him how to play.  His gift for music enchanted all living things: wild beasts, trees…
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Images of the Annunciation

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s portrayal of the Annunciation is a continuation of the theme begun in his painting The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.  The moment that Mary learns she is to give birth to the Christ child has been depicted in art frequently since the Middle Ages. Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini is shockingly intimate in comparison.  We see…
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Oracles and Sibyls

sib·yl: noun a woman in ancient times supposed to utter the oracles and prophecies of a god. literary a woman able to foretell the future. Sibyls appear often in art and fiction and I find them indicative of female power and mystery. They represent arcane knowledge of the future, usually sought by someone on an…
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Images of Ariadne

She’s a tragic heroine, so it is easy to see why she has appealed to artists. Even Agatha Christie adopted her name when created her alter ego Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne was a daughter of Minos, king of Crete.  She defied her father by helping his prisoner, Theseus, who had been imprisoned in the Minotaur’s labrynth….
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Exploring Death Through Art

The sum total of our greatest fears is the death of the self or someone we love.  Since the beginning of time, humans have had the need to not only understand concepts of life, death, and love, but to personify them artistically.  When we depict life and death in such a way, it is an…
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Four grey walls, and four grey towers

After posting about Evelyn De Morgan’s painting The Gilded Cage, I began to think about other paintings that depict women who are trapped and imprisoned in some way, paintings that prompt me to ponder limitations and boundaries. The Lady of Shalott is perhaps the most obvious example that comes to mind.  Based upon the poem…
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Find Something Beautiful

Since it is now the beginning of Summer, Sweet Summer by John William Waterhouse seems a fitting painting to contemplate.  Reclining in the grass, a beautiful woman relaxes next to a cool fountain on what is a presumably hot summer day. Her fan lies unused next to her while her hand lightly holds a rose….
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The Unrequited Love of Dante and Beatrice

In reality, Dante loved Beatrice from a distance and they had little to no contact with one another. The  real Beatrice Portinari probably never had any idea of the depth of his passion for her.  Yet she was to become one of literature’s most famous figures. Dante Alighieri first saw and fell in love with Beatrice…
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Healing, resting

“There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music.”-John Keats Several months ago I was diagnosed with a dermoid tumor on my ovary. If you aren’t squeamish, google dermoid. It’s a real monster.  However, I am extremely grateful for mine. It saved my life. During exams and tests leading up to surgery, my…
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Waterhouse Signatures

Above is a version of John William Waterhouse’s The Flower Picker.   In J.W. Waterhouse (2002, Phaidon Press), author Peter Trippi tells us that Waterhouse painted at least four versions of this work. “Waterhouse employed looser handling to make at least four depictions of a girl leaning over a fence to pick flowers.  There is no evidence…
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Lamia Revisited

Left to herself, the serpent now began To change; her elfin blood in madness ran, Her mouth foam’d, and the grass, therewith besprent, Wither’d at dew so sweet and virulent;  — Excerpt from Lamia, John Keats   I’ve shared John William Waterhouse’s first depiction of Lamia (1905) on this site at least twice, but I’ve…
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The Persistence of Myth

Myths are not dry, ancient tales.  They are our earliest experiments with metaphor and language.  They are truths nestled within layers of mystery and magic that tell us that we can make it if we try.  Myths do not lie to us or smother us in platitudes.  They openly tell us that bad things are…
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Monstrous Women

I was browsing a bookstore and found an aisle offering boxed sets of movies packaged with the books they were based on. A little girl picked up Frankenstein and handed it to her mother, who rolled her eyes. “You don’t want that. That’s for boys.” I assume the mother had never heard of Mary Shelley….
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