The Bridesmaid

millais_bridesmaid.jpgThe Bridesmaid, painted by Sir John Everett Millais

Although I’ve always found this painting beautiful and striking, I didn’t completely understand it until I read a description of it in Tim Barringer’s Reading the Pre-Raphaelites.

To the Victorians, marriage was extremely important. So was tradition. The bridesmaid pictured here is acting out a folk tale which was common at the time. The belief was that if a piece of wedding cake was passed through a ring nine times, you would have a vision of your true love.

Honestly, I never noticed the ring in her hands before. With the abundance of lovely locks, who can notice anything else?

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14 Replies to “The Bridesmaid”

  1. You emailed me the answer to my question but I lost the email. Would you please tell me again and this time I’ll certainly keep your response safely.

  2. I’ve seen her listed as a “Miss McDowell”, but I don’t remember where. Sorry, that’s all I know of this particular model.

  3. i came across this image in an old, old smithsonian magazine, ca. mid-1980’s (yeah, “old”) and for a while, thought my daughter was the reincarnation of this painting. even my son was amazed by the resemblance. the colour of the hair is much lighter that was my daughter’s dark copper locks, and the eyes were not her dark hazel, but i must say that the shape of the face and the hands and the in-general appearance of the long hair just struck me, and when i showed it to her, i feel it must have made and impression on her also, as she made a copy and had it framed and has it in her house to this day. several friends of hers commented on this picture and asked if it was an ancestor. any info on the heritage of the subject?

    1. do you see how the sublime detail of the artist has deceived the eye, for over 170 years it has not been noted but by one person, try to put your little finger across your left palm of your hand as in the painting before you look to count how many fingers there really are.

  4. I only know that the model’s name was Miss McDowell and off the top of my head, I’m not sure if Millais every used her in any other paintings. I wish I knew more about her to share with you. I just love that gorgeous mass of hair!

  5. I’m writing my short dissertation on this painting so I should be able to shed a whole lot of light on the subject soon.

    And the model is a MIss McDowell, as published in a pre-raph magazine, despite the fact that in “Life and Letters of J.E.Millais” she is stated as being a Ms Nassau so and so. The Tate catalogue for their pre-raph exhibition agress with the Miss McDowell. BUt I would be inclinded to agree with the word of the artist myself!

  6. I have had the honour of seeing the original at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge, am still starstruck. I can only describe it as the feeling you get from listening your favourite music on the radio or on CD for years then seeing the artist perform live, that memory stays with you. I have seen this beautiful painting over and over in books but to stand before it and soak it’s beauty in is something else. The painting is tiny for one thing, fills the entire frame and does give you the feeling that you are viewing a private, personal scene. The bridesmaid is totally absorbed in her wish to see her own husband to be.

  7. Mellissa-Rose, if you can get your hands on it, read the tate Catalogue for the millais exhibition, it has a very good entry. The flowers she wears are Orangeblossom, which have symbolism to do with fruitfulness and marriage, its the flower bridesmaids traditionally wore. Apparently the sugar holder thing is meant to be a phallic symbol… according to some anyway. You should also look into the poem the Eve of St Agnes, which the PRBs were quite into. The painting and the poem share many themes.

    hope this helps

  8. I too saw the original at the Fitzwilliam decades ago. I bought a slide and postcard. One year my wife had a print made and framed for me as a birthday present. For over 20 years the picture has hung in our house as a beautiful reminder of time spent in England.

  9. I also saw this painting at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge. Have admired The Preraphaelites for many years since happening upon their work via a library book! To see this painting was incredible like seeing one of my favourite bands play a live concert just for me. Will never forget how I felt. I was aware of the tradition of a bridesmaid passing wedding cake through the wedding ring in the hope of glimpsing a sight of her future husband but the longing and hoping in the bridesmaids face is so real. Does make me wonder how this artists could capture that look, must’ve been a true romantic himself! Her beautiful hair alone fills about two thirds of his painting.

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