AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractMuch of the recent scholarly criticism of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has focused on the relationship between Artist and Muse. Dinah Roe, in her introduction to her edited collection of Pre-Raphaelite Poetry, states that ‘Pre-Raphaelitism maintained strict demarcations between women’s roles (as muses) and men’s (as creators).’ This paper, however, will suggest that through the use of shared pastoral metaphors and imagery, female Pre-Raphaelite poets gained a sense of agency through appropriating techniques used by male poets. This was also further encouraged by Pre-Raphaelite muses’ writing of poetry, and the highly visual intertextuality between portraiture and the written word. The minutiae of detail employed in descriptions of pastoral scenes in such poems as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘The Blessed Damozel’, ‘Genius in Beauty’ and ‘Silent Noon’ (amongst others) are explored to a depth that exposes the Pre-Raphaelites’ use of the natural to explore sensuality: ‘Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass, - the finger-points look through like rosy blooms’ writes Dante Gabriel Rossetti in ‘Silent Noon’. This marriage of body and nature, with an intense attention to sensual visuality, is highly characteristic of the Pre-Raphaelites almost erotic evolution of Romantic literary sensibilities. Similar imagery is employed in the works of female Pre-Raphaelite writers. Elizabeth Siddal, most well-known for being Dante’s muse for a number of his artworks, as well as his sister, Christina Rossetti employ a similar sensuous focus on natural detail to exemplify their position as objects of desire. Rossetti’s use of the Petrarchan Sonnet form, most commonly used as a medieval expression of courtly love, also contributes to this idea. This paper will explore how the patterns of such imagery react to the pastoral eroticism of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and how this appropriation may be seen to reclaim feminine sexuality and desire. At the core of the argument will be the intensely visual relationship between muse and artist, and the Pre-Raphaelites’ interest in conversions of image to text, and text to image.
CitationLeahy, R. (2023). The sensuous pastoral: Vision and text in Pre-Raphaelite art. In A. Alyal (Ed.) Literature and image in the long nineteenth century: Speaking picture and silent text. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
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