|Nell Gwynn (1675) Peter Lely|
|Emma Hamilton George Romney|
Roll forward to the Victorian period and behold the power of a severe centre parting...
|Queen Vic on her wedding day|
|Clean and Pox-Free! Lovely.|
|Mrs Coventry Patmore (1851) J E Millais|
That title has to go to a woman who died a hundred years ago today. Discovered in a theatre in Oxford by the erstwhile Rossetti, she was proclaimed as a beauty when, by her contemporaries standards, she was anything but.
|Jane Morris in 1865|
|Traditional Victorian Couple|
|The Pilgrims of Siena (1881)|
Jane is second from the right
Skip forward to modern day. In an article just yesterday Jane was described as 'the famous beauty', but at what point did she become the hallmark of beauty? I find it interesting that the article that hailed her looks (the number of times the word 'beautiful' is repeated is quite funny) as unquestionably stunning has a sidebar of which unfortunate 'celebrities' look rank or gorgeous on any given day (Madonna: garish, Irina the Russian model: perky). I begin to wonder if beauty is linked to power once more, or an acceptance of establishment. While Pre-Raphaelite art is seen as unquestioningly beautiful (if rather low brow and pretty by some) the the women who inhabit the canvases, whatever they look like, are the epitome of beauty. Whenever I read dismissal or questioning of the status of Pre-Raphaelitism, I notice the criticism is often a thinly veiled attack on the appearance of Jane Morris. Rossetti's art is spoken of as being large, dark women, improbable, unsettling. While we love their art, Jane is a beauty. This leads me to wonder about the nature of our biography of women, both living and dead.
Above is a trio of pictures of another dark-haired lady, one rather more modern. Top is a picture of the food writer and tv presenter, Nigella Lawson, around the time that she rose to fame with her retro style and witty commentary. The middle picture is when she appeared at court last autumn to defend herself against a barrage of personal details, and bottom is a picture of her a week ago, on holiday. Adjectives such as 'saucy' and 'sexy' were applied to the first image, 'severe' and 'regal' going into court, but by the time the fuss had died down she gets 'bloated and 'puffy' applied to her for the last picture. It doesn't take a genius (but it is beyond the power of the newspapers) to work out that the difference between the first two images and the last is that she definitely set out with the knowledge she would be photographed. She is her public persona and is glorious. The last is just her, her private self. Not only that but her star is not in the ascendant (at least in the media) and so she is no longer beautiful. I am simplifying the matter to save even more rambling on my part but it seems to me that as a woman your beauty never lies in your face. The consensus think you are popular, you are a beauty. Your star begins to fall and your beauty vanishes.
|Kate Moss' Pre-Raphaelitesque Wedding Photos (by Mario Testino)|
Better to be yourself and block your ears.