Due to Popular Demand: Pre-Raphaelites, Part Deux

Yesterday's post on the Pre-Raphaelites got a huge response and so I have decided that in keeping with the interactive idea of this blog I will post some works by other artists for the movement and let the pictures do the talking today. If you have questions about an specific work or just want to know more about the movement, please email me at theartdaily@gmail.com. Enjoy!

William Holman Hunt, The Awakening Conscience (1853)

John Everett Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50)

John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1851–1852)

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott (1888)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpina (1874)

Dante Garbriel Rossetti, Proserpina (1874). 47 x 22 inches, located at the Tate Gallery in London.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was founded in 1848 by him, John Everett Millias, and William Holman Hunt. Widely considered now to be the first avant-garde movement in art, the Brotherhood was based on the idea that everything from the Italian masters Michelangelo and Raphael had been a slow decline in style and design. The Mannerists, especially, had contributed to Academic ideas about art and had moved away representing moods and emotions into a realm of style with little substance. They worshiped the more primitive styles of Fra Angelico, and his like. However, while they had great distaste for Raphael and the Mannerists, they particularly loathed Sir Joshua Reynolds of the Royal Academy in London. His own grand-manner portraiture and the history painting he taught were abominable to the Pre-Raphaelites and they hated that he was influencing the next generation of artists.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was based on four basic tenants:
1. To have genuine ideas to express
2. To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them
3. To sympathize with that which is direct, serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote
4. Most of all, to produce good pictures and statues

Though the Brotherhood would evolve as time passed, these ideals remained the same. Other figures joined the movement and, similar to the Secessionists, it became a lifestyle. Inspired by Romanticism and the Romantics like Byron and Tennyson. One could live their life in that mode. There was William Morris and his workshop creating all different types of products, all designed within the Brotherhood. This extended to clothing, household items, and also writings.

Proserpina, or Persephone as she is known in Greek mythology, is the Roman goddess who is married to Pluto/Hades, God of the underworld. She was kidnapped by Pluto as a young woman to be his bride. Her mother, the goddess Ceres/Demeter who controlled agriculture and the harvest, immediately tried to find her and rescue her but before the gods found her, Proserpina had already eaten six pomegranate seeds. The legend goes that if one eats of the food of Pluto/Hades then one can never return to the mortal plane. However, because her mother was so powerful, Proserpina was allowed to spend six months of the year on Olympus and six below in Hades. From this story come the seasons, with Fall and Winter being the months that Ceres/Demeter is without her daughter and so angry at the world, and Spring and Summer when Proserpina is returned to her and she allows the world to grow.

Rossetti has portrayed his muse Jane Burden here as Proserpina with the pomegranate a focal point of the work. Burden was married to fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Morris, and it seems that Rossetti and she might have been romantically involved. This painting is commonly thought to be an allegory for her marriage to Morris and Rossetti's plea for her to escape Morris/Pluto and live on Olympus with him. This seems to be a bit convoluted for what was surely a more simple relationship between an artist and his muse but the back story lends the drama, tragedy and Romanticizing quality that infused almost all of Rossetti's work. His other famous works include, but are not limited to: Beata Beatrix (1864-70), Astarte Syriaca (1877) and many others.


Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat (1793)

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat (1793). Oil on canvas, 64x50inches, currently in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

Jacques-Louis David (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825) was the preeminent painter of the French Revolution and the regimes that came after it. This painting has always been one of the great examples of his Neoclassical style and though what is probably his most famous painting, Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass (1801) came after the Republic, his other well-known works, including the Death of Marat, are illustrations of the ideals of the new government. His stellar "Republican" works include, but are not limited to: the Oath of the Horatii (1784), The Death of Socrates (1787), and The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (1789). These works all rely on classical subject matter, in this case all stories from the Roman Republic, to convey the message of self-sacrifice and duty to your nation, country, or homeland that was necessary for "liberté, égalité, fraternité."

As one of the most famous images of the French Revolution the Death of Marat is evocative of the age in its Neoclassical style and idealization of its subject. The subject of the painting is Jean-Paul Marat (May 24, 1743 – July 13, 1793) who was a Swiss-born journalist and philosopher. Known as a radical supporter of the Revolution and the new Republic, Marat became an important politician when he wrote on the rights of the Third Estate. He also started his own publication, called "The Friend of the People," that was biased toward the Jacobin party. As an important figure within the government Marat was a close colleague of Robespierre and Georges Danton. He also became close with Jacques-Louis David who was, without the official title, the painter whose depictions of the Revolution were most favored by the new government. Marat's health rapidly deteriorated due to a skin condition that made him unable to wear clothes comfortably. For the roughly three years leading up to his death he did much of his work from home, in a medicinal bath that soothed the symptoms of his disease.

Marat, as any radical politician is likely to do, gained many enemies from the oppositional parties through his work and writings. The most serious opposition came from the Girondin party (royalist supporters) who, through much of Marat's own machinations, were finally brought down in 1792. A about a month later, on July 13th, while Marat was in his bath, a young woman named Charlotte Corday came to his house to as a supplicant looking for help in exchange for what she said was important information about the Girondins who had escaped after the fall. Marat summoned her in and she attended him while he was still in his bath. She gave him a list of the names and whereabouts of several Girondins. After he proclaimed that they would all soon be dead, Charlotte stabbed him once with a long knife she had concealed within her corset. The single wound killed him within seconds. Charlotte Corday was a Girondin supporter whose family was impoverished aristocracy and royalist supporters to the extent that both her brothers had fled with the princes a few months before. Corday was quickly caught and guillotined four days later. Her last words were, "I killed one man to save 100,000."

The painting depicts Marat in his death throes; Charlotte Corday has fled but left behind the knife, which lies near right hand on the floor, and the letter she gave him in introduction which he still holds in his left. Its words, "My great unhappiness gives me a right to your kindness" seeks to show Marat in sympathetic light as an powerful individual happy to assist a woman in need. This is further emphasized by the letter he was working on previous to their encounter. It sits on his makeshift desk and reads,"You will give this assignat to that mother of five children whose husband died in the defense of his country." The wound to his chest is clearly seen against his pale, almost translucent skin. David has painted Marat as a martyr to the Revolution, and though he was seen by many has a dangerous radical this visual representation was applauded and treasured by the Republic for years.


Henri Toulouse-Latrec, At the Moulin Rouge (1892-95)

Henri Toulouse-Latrec, At the Moulin Rouge (1892-95). Oil on canvas,
123 x 141 cm. Located at the Art Institute of Chicago, IL.

Toulouse-Latrec (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901) was born into a French aristocratic family with a lineage that could be traced back hundreds of years. A childhood accident left him with very short legs and this physical deformity made him feel uncomfortable and ill at ease within the aristocratic circles his family moved in. Because of this he frequented the nightclubs and underbelly of Paris, especially the famous Moulin Rouge, the Parisian nightclub named for the red windmill on its roof (immortalized recently in the film starring Nicole Kidman). He became a regular feature at the Moulin Rouge and befriended many of the stars and customers. The painting above, At the Moulin Rouge, depicts Toulouse-Latrec among his friends.

The painting itself showcases the varied clientele and entertainment of the infamous club. In the far background, La Goulue, in the red with blond hair and whose real name was Louise Weber, adjusts her costume as a friend looks on. La Goulue was one of the stars of the Moulin Rouge and she was most known for her Can-Can. She was also one of Toulouse-Latrec's favorite subjects and she can be found in many of his works. In front of her to the left of the work, a small almost dwarfish man walks with a tall angular gentleman in a top hat. These two figures are Toulouse-Latrec himself and his cousin,Gabriel Tapié de Céléyran. The woman in the foreground with the strangely green face is May Milton, another of the Moulin Rouge's dancers. Around the table in the foreground to the left are writer Edouard Dujardin, the star dancer Jane Avril, La Macarona, photographer Paul Sescau, and the reputed winemaker Maurice Guibert.

Toulouse-Lautrec was part of the Post-Impressionist movement that sought to combine elements of both Impressionism and Expressionism. He utilizes the world around him as a subject in a similar vein to the interest in contemporary settings shown by the Impressionists, however much of his style is more expressive than impressionistic. There is no feeling of plein air or the idea that this was painting outside among nature, this is a very artificial work that strives to express its message through color and line. Toulouse-Latrec wants to convey the feelings of urgency, decadence, desperation and activity that was the Moulin Rouge. This painting is emblematic of its time because it does not shy away from showing the workings of the underside of Paris. From the indecency of La Goulue's public display to the blatant placement of the glass of absinthe in the forefront of the painting, Toulouse-Latrec is reveling in the ways of that underworld.

At the Moulin Rouge is a fantastic expression of Post-Impressionist movement, which also included figures like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Vulliard, and Bonnard. He displays the contemporary world without the idealized and sometimes whimsical modes that accompanied Impressionism and does not fear exposing how the world can look and what that can inspire.


Guest Post: Michelangelo, Florentine Pietà (c. 1550)

Guest Blogger: Lauren Fliegelman, fourth year Art History/Journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Spent a semester studying the Italian Renaissance masters in Rome, 2009. Current area of research: Manet and Japanese Influences.

Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà ca. 1550, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence.

The Forgotten Pietà

Michelangelo’s Roman Pietà is eternally breathtaking and ever famous. Period. Basic art historical texts, Roman travel guides, and the images themselves all hail its true magnificence as a fixture in any tourists venture to St. Peter’s Basilica. However, on a recent trip to Florence, I came across its lesser known, yet in my opinion utterly stunning cousin, Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà . Rarely can it be said that a Renaissance piece from Florence has been outdone by its Roman counterpart. I hope to impart some belief that this artistic trope stands correct. The Florentine Pietà is a thing of beauty.

During the later period of his life, Michelangelo’s work seems to be influenced by his close personal friendship with the well-respected and overtly pious Vittoria Colonna. A fusion of the simpler Pietà scene with the traditional Lamentation and Deposition groups, the vertically towering piece depicts the Dead Christ, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus all mourning this momentous loss.

Of greater interest to me, and in fact many art historians, is the face of Nicodemus. Looming over the entire group, the powerful hooded figure supports the weight of the dead Christ’s body. Both Vasari and Condivi claimed shortly after the death of the artist that this was in fact the face of Michelangelo. Seldom placed on the face of the central figure in a composition, an artist normally chose a lesser character for his self-portrait. Possible explanations arise in that this piece was likely meant for the tomb of the artist himself.

While I tend to work through my frustration over art history papers with a pink squishy stress ball, Michelangelo appears to prefer the hammer. In 1555, in a bought of dissatisfaction, he smashed the left leg, as well as forearms, off the already battered Christ, forever deeming this work inferior to his earlier Roman Pietà (as well as his Rodanini Pietà which I have failed to mention up to this point). Proving in a true artistic fashion that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, his servant and/or pupil [Calcagni*] saved the piece and continued work on it, only to sell it for a profit. Reasons for the attempt at destruction are also widely debated adding to my aforementioned piqued interest regarding this piece.

Go and see it. It is truly stunning to see both the psyche and the hand of such a fascinating artist at work through this discarded and regrettable piece.

Best, Lauren (Lydia’s peculiar yet equally devoted friend and art lover)

For further reading on the subject see: Michelangelo and Nicodemism: The Florentine Pietà by Valerie Shrimplin-Evangelidis, From The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 58-66

*essay slightly edited by LMJ from original for Italian accents and names when known