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Images Of Victorian Women By The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood

1169 words - 5 pages

The Victorian Era was one of great change in England. Revolutionary movements, such as the Chartist demonstration and the fall of the Second Empire in France, paved the way for new ideologies. The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by the changing atmosphere of the times and through their art attempted to introduce emotion, realism and originality back into British painting. The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, F.G. Stephens, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, and William Michael Rossetti. These seven men chose to reject the Italian Renaissance, in particular Raphael’s influence, which was the style favoured by the ...view middle of the document...

Another example of a woman betrayed by love is Tennyson's Lady of Shalott illustrated by J.W. Waterhouse. Imprisoned in her tower, the Lady was content until she looked out her window and saw what she was missing, particularly the happiness shared by couples in love. In Waterhouse’s painting, the Lady drifts down the river towards Camelot, her agonized face betraying feelings of loneliness and despair. The Lady of Shalott would eventually die abandoned by her own love, Sir Lancelot. The concept of feminine weakness was common during the Victorian period, with a woman being dominated by her husband. Yet at this time, all were in fact ruled by a woman, Queen Victoria I. Her reign marked the beginning of Britain's journey towards gender equality and saw the rise of the suffragette movement, which was led by women who actively campaigned to get the vote. Though the Pre-Raphaelites were painting at a time when great strides were being made towards gender equality, they still chose to depict women as the “weaker sex.”
Another common theme in Pre-Raphaelite art is the “fallen woman.” This type is exemplified by Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience which deals with the problem of prostitution. A prostitute, as evidenced by her state of undress, her freed tresses, and the lack of a ring on a certain finger, was sitting with her lover, when she was struck by guilt and seeing the error of her ways, tried to stand up. The man, oblivious to what has happened, kept on playing the piano. However the title of the painting, The Awakening Conscience, gives hope that the woman eventually may return to the path of righteousness, though this is not possible in reality. Ironically in Victorian society, instead of the men who visited prostitutes being held responsible, it was the prostitute who was blamed. The soiled dove, another name for a prostitute, represented the exact opposite of what a woman was to be. Women were suppose to be pure, mother figures, meek, and a helpmeet for their husbands. In comparison, prostitutes were unmarried women whose unseemly desires destroyed the happy family unit and hastened the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The juxtaposition of wife and whore during the Victorian era was indicative of the polarization of their ideology, rather than a representation of reality. In Victorian England, the high number of prostitutes was viewed as a “social evil,” that needed to be corrected. Through their paintings, the Pre-Raphaelites present the reality of prostitution, a common occupation of “fallen women,” in a way that is less...

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