I really should start this blog with Fanny Cornforth, as she is my overriding concern, obsession and general bore-subject in the realm of Victorian art. However, I will start with a subject much on my mind at moment: Men.
Sorry, let me rephrase…I am currently obsessing over the links in visual aspects of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Pre-Raphaelite art. See, when you say it like that it sounds vaguely intellectual and not like I spend my time giggling over medieval boys in armour. Honestly.
|O What's That in the Hollow?|
|Dead One in the Dead Marsh|
The reason I was drawn to the image was that it is a bit of a rarity among Pre-Raphaelite art, in that it is an image of a dead man. Now, this is a subject for another time, but thinking about it, there are very few images of beautiful, dead men. Off the top of my head, I can think of only Chatterton by Henry Wallis (1830-1916) and Rienzi Swearing to his Brother he will call his Painting Something Shorter Next Time by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), and possibly The Wounded Cavalier by William Shakespeare Burton (1824-1916), unlike the endless images of Ophelia, the Lady of Shalott, Elaine, Beatrice and so on.
It is generally held that the inspiration for the Dead Marshes were the fields of the First World War, and you can see how Frodo and Sam, picking their way across these haunted pastures, now sodden and steaming with cut down life seem to owe more to First World War images than Victorian Medievalising. Hughes’ image is a corpse hidden in a forest, a ‘thin dead body which waits the eternal term’, but roses grow over the body, which has yet to decay. Either you believe the man inserted himself very carefully among the roses before dying or he is simply not corrupting, remaining intact, his eyes still open, awaiting some further course of action, like the Dead Ones. Peter Jackson’s Dead Ones that lure Frodo into the marsh are fairly intact at first glance, still elfin, elegant creatures, but unlike Hughes’ preserved young man, whose lack of decay could reference sainthood, the Dead Ones have become possessed of the evil of Mordor, which keeps them intact for uncertain purpose.
|...and off to another world|
|Medieval Lady, white dress...|
|Medieval Lady, white dress....|
It is a little foolhardy possibly to claim that a writer who had passed through two World Wars was overwhelmingly influenced by art of the century before, but Tolkien read William Morris’ works and found his sagas and stories of great inspiration, as did other members of his circle, the Inklings. It is easy to see Morris’ call for a respect of craft and tradition in Tolkien’s portrayal of the Hobbits, possibly the last hope for civilization, and now I cannot think of William Morris without wondering if he would have liked a round green door on the front of Kelmscott Manor…