The Hour Glass: On Jane Morris and Aging

Jane Morris was swept into the Pre-Raphaelite world at age eighteen.  She was La Belle Iseult to William Morris, who declared “I cannot paint you; but I love you”.  Then she was Pandora, Mnemosyne, Astarte Syriaca and other assorted goddesses to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  And years later, after the Pre-Raphaelite bloom had faded from her cheeks, we see Jane on canvas again in Evelyn De Morgan’s The Hour Glass.

'The Hour Glass', Evelyn De Morgan (1905)

‘The Hour Glass’, Evelyn De Morgan (1905)

Her hand rests on the hour glass. Does she reflect on the time that has passed or how much she has left?  De Morgan’s work is filled with symbolism and I enjoy the fact that some if it is on the floor, reminiscent of Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience — a dying rose and a book entitled ‘Mors Janua Vitae’ or Death is the Portal of Life. Tapestries adorn the background, an allusion to Jane Morris’ work with embroidery.

Jane Morris as Proserpine, 1874, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I still find Jane beautiful.  It’s a shame we as a society fear aging so much.  We have this need to pretend, to botox wrinkles into submission.  A few weeks ago  I happened upon some videos of myself and my children that I  hadn’t seen for years.   It was fun to watch those videos again, visit the proverbial memory lane and see my children as babies. Those days are golden.  At the same time, it was like looking at a stranger.  I remember the days perfectly, but I was seeing myself from the outside.  Somehow, I wasn’t fully me yet.  I’m thirty-eight and I’m proud of it.  I can’t wait to be fifty-eight and seventy-eight and eighty-eight… Please, let me have a day when I can sit resplendent on a throne, gowned à la
Jane Morris and look back on my time with my own hour glass.  “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Perhaps that’s what we should take from The Hour Glass.  Constantly bombarded with modern images telling us what beauty should be, what aging should be, we can look to Jane in The Hour Glass and know that’s what it really should be:  aging is not about the looks.  It’s about the attitude, the ease that comes from being comfortable with one’s self, making peace with your decisions and deciding that when you look back on your life, warts and all, it was a life well lived.

Portrait of Jane Morris, Phillips, Harry F (photographer) 1914. V&A

Portrait of Jane Morris, Phillips, Harry F (photographer) 1914. V&A


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