In a World of Her Own

I’ve seen Pre-Raphaelite paintings of women dismissed as ‘languid’ or ‘vapid’ and many critics view them as sensual images created solely for the male gaze.

That’s a fair argument, but I feel it’s a point of view that barely scratches the surface.

To me, Pre-Raphaelite women are not shallow objects of beauty, but women focused more on their own contemplation than their surroundings. I see them as works of introspection rather than objectification.

Jane Morris as Proserpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Jane Morris in The Day-Dream, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1880)

Images such as these are less narrative, more mood.

They evoke an almost claustrophobic feeling, placing the viewer in close proximity to a woman whose gaze will never meet theirs.

Reverie, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

We feel a part of the intimate setting as if we are intruders on her reverie, watching her as she contemplates thoughts and emotions that are impossible to read on her face.We have caught her in a period sustained by intellect and introversion.

The Pre-Raphaelite woman is beautiful, often sensual, and we can certainly objectify her.

Yet neither should we dismiss her as vapid. She is depicted in private moments of thinking and feeling and it is this sense of deep inner reflection that appeals to me.  These are the women whose experiences remind me of my own private hours, moments that belong to me where I explore inner workings that are sacred because they are mine and mine alone.

Fanny Cornforth in Fazio’s Mistress, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

You are free to enjoy a woman’s aesthetic beauty, but there are things about her that you can never know, touch, or explore unless she deems you worthy and chooses to share them.

 We control our private world. 

This is something that many Pre-Raphaelites may have never considered when creating their work, yet I see it here so clearly.

Languid and vapid? Not in my view.

Drawing of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

4 thoughts on “In a World of Her Own”

  1. Very astute remarks, Stephanie! Have found myself quite disappointed with critics who categorize self-reflective women, in life and art, as vain, insipid or pretentious people because their gaze is directed inwards rather than outwards towards the world, where masculine principles rule the day in war and commerce. I rarely see images of Pre-Raphaelite women as languid–more often there is a sense of deep melancholy or inner quiet–and the feminine beauty which is portrayed is often as ephemeral and/or intelligent as it is sensual. Vapid women do not have deep thoughts!

  2. Stephanie, I agree with your view 100% wholeheartedly and even I dare to say, fiercely. I love what you say Susannah and of course also agree with your view. I am male but I believe I have been graced by God with a strong feminist view. I am fully male in many respects and I can not denie the fact, but at the same time, I see and understand much in a way that I have found out is not the normal way males see and understand the world in general. I have also found out through experience, that I perceive much of life, from an unquestionably feminine perspective. I do so much agree with both of your views, thank you for expressing them so beautifully

  3. These paintings are a wonderful way to admire females.
    Rossetti Morris etc all seem to be attracted to redheads and these women all came from poor backgrounds so this opportunity which came along must have been heaven sent, I would not have wanted to have been a domestic servant back then.

    I was a redhead and would have definitely posed for a painting by one of these artists , they are classical beautiful and yes strikingly out of the ordinary.


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