The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane


Pre-Raphaelite Paintings on Literary Subjects

The Pre-Raphaelites were strongly drawn to literary subject matter, perhaps as a way of increasing the intensity of the image through its resonance with two art forms. Rossetti frequently wrote poems to accompany his paintings, or vice versa. These painters were also inspired by the works of Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson--all writers of sensuous, musical verse.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1852)

The model here is Rossetti's wife, Elizabeth Siddal, who posed for this painting floating in a bathtub. The story is that the modelling produced both a beautiful painting and a cold.

Holman Hunt, The Eve of St. Agnes (1848)

Hunt chooses the moment of the lovers' escape, with Porphyro's hand poised to open the door. Hunt embellishes their departure by adding the drunken insensible shapes of the carousing guests, to emphasize the difference between coarse and dissipated sensuality and the idealised sensuousness of the young lovers.

"The Lady of Shalott"

With its medievalism, its rich imagery, its romantic and idealised female figure, and its motif of unfulfilled love, Tennyson's poem was well suited to the Pre-Raphaelite imagination. Note how each of the following painters, however, chooses a different moment in the poem on which to focus.

Holman Hunt, The Lady of Shalott

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Lady of Shalott (1858-9)

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott (1888)

Born in 1849, Waterhouse was too young to be a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but his painting shows their influence in its subject matter, its use of color, its medievalism, and its female figure.

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