Sunday 27 May 2012

It's Getting Hot in Here...

It was almost a year ago that I did a post on Midsummer Pictures of Swelter-y Sweetness, but the last few days have been so amazingly hot that I found myself revisiting Victorian summer imagery.  Frankly, I wasn't doing it with much gusto as it is far too hot.  I have been doing little more than loosening my corset and tumbling onto the chaise longue, fanning myself.  So, if I was a Victorian, how would I be keeping cool?

In Summer (1887) Frank Weston Benson
Well, if I was being properly Victorian, I think I would be sitting around in a white frock, not complaining.  I think I could just manage to remain static if it meant being cool.  I love Benson's girl, she's marvellously calm, relaxing in the shade.  That pale turquoise on the dark chair is beautiful.  So, first of all I need to get a white dress...

A Quiet Cove (Girl Canoeing) (1900) Arthur Hacker
Right, I have my white dress on, and now it seems I should head for water.  The lady above is winsomely canoeing on a pond, and she has stopped to pick a waterlily.  That seems like rather a lot of work for a hot day.  Surely I would have some gallant chap to row me around while I shelter underneath my parasol?  You can't get the help these days...

By Summer Seas Charles Sims
I decided to go to the beach instead, where I will not be required to paddle myself around, just perch on a rock in my enormously frilly dress and hat.  Mind you, the young lady above is suffering the perils of sea breezes.  Well, that's not any help at all.  How am I meant to remain in control of my hat and frilly dress in the bracing summer zephyrs?

Summer on the Beach Paul Fischer
Oh, right, take them off...

A Fjord Near Oslo 1892 Paul Fischer
Oh for goodness sake, ladies, this really is no way to behave!  What would the gentlemen think?

Noonday Heat (1902-3) Henry Scott Tuke
Now, just pack it in!  Really, loosening ones corset is one thing, but stripping off is entirely another!  Also, the nearest beach isn't sand, it's pebbles, and if you think I'm going to sprawl around in my all-together on shingle, you've got another thing coming.  It's all very well until you get up to leave, and then you're covered in a pattern that could be read as Braille.  I'm not going through that again.

The Lark (1882) Pal Szinyei
Yes, I suppose lounging in a meadow isn't so bad, and look at those splendid clouds.  However, I would worry I'd be caught in the rain - although, thinking about it, it's not like you're going to get your clothes wet.  However, I'd probably be gazing enraptured at the spiralling lark and miss the group of ramblers, or scouts.  And I don't fancy going through that again either.

Summer (1894) Leon Frederic
Of course, if you decide to sprawl around nude near a cornfield and you are surprised by the Rough Ramblers, you could always grab this handy disguise and claim to be a personification of a season.  No-one will be any the wiser, especially if you skip off before anyone asks any difficult questions. 

The reason I love these pictures is that the reality of a twenty-first century sudden summer is less than elegant.  I took a turn into town this morning only to be confronted with scorched skin and underwear masquerading as outerwear.  In one case, a young lady had her extremely small hotpants undone and rolled down so her actual pants were on show.  In Tescos.  Heavens.  And people have the nerve to look at me askance if I carry my Chinese parasol and paper fan.

This year I will be holidaying in 1870.  At least there is no pressure to get a tan.  Or wear clothes, apparently.  Sounds perfect.

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Pug of Doom

The Walker family are currently redesigning our back garden.  We moved into a house previously owned by an old lady who had made most of the garden raised beds and paving, and we wanted grass and flowers.  Part of the reason for this is (and I am lowering my voice) we plan to get a dog at the end of the year.  For goodness sake, do not tell Lily of this plan, she will explode with excitement.  Anyway, before we can consider bringing home a four-legged friend, we need to make our home and surrounding area dog-friendly, and as it currently resembles the Somme, this is taking a lot of effort.  We finally have a bit of lawn, so I have been thinking about dogs all week, how lovely it will be to have a little fluffy bundle of fun in the house.  Ahhh, dogs....

Then I saw this....

John Franks and his Poodle (19th century) British School
That sound is my blood running cold.  I don't know which of them I feel more terrified by.  John Franks is scary enough, that whimsome little smile covering the fact that he has done something awful.  However, that sunken-eyed poodle of despair...I may never sleep again, just in case I wake up in the middle of the night and find them sitting on the end of my bed.

The Victorians loved animals ever so much.  Their love of domestic animals explains the plethora of images, some metaphoric, some straight portraits, and inevitably some of them manage to strike a dischordant note.  For every Daniel Tomkins and his Dog....

Daniel Tomkins and his Dog (1898) Alfred Munning
...there is a Danger Ahead...

Danger Ahead Charles Spencelayh
You know that when you find the deserted village, these two would be stood in the middle of it, refusing to say what happened to everyone else.  They are indeed 'danger ahead'...

Okay, I know what you're thinking, they look harmless, it's just a cute picture of a little girl and her dog.  That's how they'll get you.  You'll be thinking about how sweet and harmless they look, how much the dog loves the little girl, how eerily quiet it is...don't say I didn't warn you.

Mug Won't Beg (1857) John Harris
Poor old Mug, he's planning his revenge as we watch.  I wish I could say 'And the little boy in the painting grew up to be John Ruskin!' as it would explain a lot.  On the whole, although this is a bit strange (and possibly grounds for investigation by the RSPCA), it doesn't frighten me.  Unlike this little gem...

Quite Ready Philip Morris
The pug of doom!  Heavens above, come on!  You can't deny that this is disquietening.  Look at the red border to the animal skin and how white and fluffy the little girl is.  She's 'quite ready', but for what?  Your impending demise, if you ask me.  Alright, the heat may have gotten to me this week, but I never trust anyone dressed in that amount of frilly satin.

Head of a Boy with a Dog Frans Hals
Oh dear, this does nothing to calm me down, possibly because the Boy reminds me of the demon doll Chuckie.  It's the tiny fist clutching at the dog that worries me, plus that manic expression.  Well, at least he has a smile on his face, because I think the lack of expression in the other picture is what disturbs me the most.  I envy my daughter at times, as she can be having a bad day but the merest glimpse of a dog makes everything fabulous and shiny for her, and everything else is forgotten.  Chuckie above at least looks happy about his four-legged chum.  I admit that John Franks (and his poodle) has a sort-of smile, but one that says 'I have no soul, the dog ate it' rather than child-like jollity.

Boy with Dog Wilhelm Marstrand
My word, I think it is possible I shall never sleep again.  The little boy's eyes are just too big and his tiny white dog reminds me of those little pups that look cute, but secretly want to savage you with their needle sharp teeth.  I wonder if he knows John Franks?

Oh, I am sorry, I didn't mean to deprive everyone of sleep tonight.  Granted there are lots of not-even-slighty-terrifying pictures of dogs, but there is a perverse pleasure in finding ones which have no doubt been chilling the blood of audiences for over a century.  I'll leave you with a far more reassuring image, which belongs to Stamford and Rutland Hospital...

Unknown Man and Dog Unknown Artist
See, nothing scary in this picture of an unknown man and his unknown dog by an unknown artist.  The man looks fairly jovial and the dog doesn't look like it's planning any misdeed.  Mind you, we can't see his eyes...I wonder what's in that letter in his hand? 'Dearest Emily, I don't wish to alarm anyone, but I think I heard Pomkin talking to the mice earlier about an accident that is to befall me....'  Shortly afterwards Pomkin's owner fell under a tram and left all his money to Pomkin in a scruffily written Will, signed with a paw print in ink...

I wonder if Lily would be happy with a goldfish?

Monday 21 May 2012

Warm Throat, Warm Lips

I think one of the things I try hard to accomplish in studying art is not only to understand what pictures mean to me, but also what pictures meant to others, especially the contemporary audience.  With the Victorians, it can be easy sometimes to see their concerns in their appreciation of a work of art, but sometimes the response to a painting can seem curious and unexplainable.  I am made very happy by discovering a new angle to approach familiar pictures, and this weekend I got lucky.

I loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and was delighted to hear that Kate Summerscale had written another book.  Mrs Robinson's Disgrace is fascinating, and there is an interesting section on George Combe, the Father of Phrenology.

Mrs Robinson, of the title, became good friends with Combe, and he offered an explanation to her problems.  It was all in her lumps and bumps, more especially it was in her cerebellum.  In Combe's book of 1838 A System of Phrenology, he offered a reading of character through the size and shape of areas of the brain and by extension, the skull.  To Combe, the character of a person, their very essence and nature was not in something as wishy-washy as a 'spirit', it was in the far more tangible, and feel-able, skull.  Combe was a very influential and controversial figure, far more than Darwin, even though he remains relatively unknown today.  Combe's book The Constitution of Man sold 350,000 copies from 1828 to 1900.  He held the radical view that it was the natural world, not God, that ruled humankind, and everything could be understood if we first understood nature.  His work encompassed Phrenology, commonly known as the reading of bumps on the head.  If you've been into a reproduction furniture shop, you're bound to have seen a phrenology head...

This one is a bit swish, as it has explanatory pictures.  Look at the nape of the neck: there is an area called 'amativeness' which has a nice little cupid, but is not so much about love as lust.  The amative area is seated in the cerebellum, which as you can see is just above the hollow at the nape of the neck and has a bearing on how thick the throat is.  The thicker the throat, the more pronounced your amativeness is, and the more trouble you no doubt are.  Men have larger cerebellum than women, and traditionally lust-fuelled animals like bulls, rams and pigeons have swollen necks.  Swollen with lust!  At it like pigeons!  Sorry, I am frankly puzzled by the mention of pigeons, but I'll move on.

Amativeness, and what happens if your cerebellum gets perverted...
In Summerscale's book, poor Mrs Robinson has an enlarged cerebellum, which obviously does her no good at all.  Amativeness, when enlarged in a woman, leads to all manner of awfulness.  There are some quite peculiar descriptions of women whose cerebellum becomes enlarged and hot, causing them to throw their heads back.  Women with thick throats were vulgar and base and no doubt slaves to their baser urges...Oh, remind you of anyone?

Look at the neck on her!

If there was ever a man who liked a big-necked girl, it's Rossetti. He is throat obsessed.  In his poetry he talks of 'enthroning throat' ('The Portrait'), Jenny's 'long throat', 'growing throat' ('A Last Confession'), and how he'd like to kiss his muse 'Up your warm throat to your warm lips' ('Youth's Spring-Tribute'). Saucy devil.  In an echo of a Combe story about a lusty widow who went into a seizure of naughtiness and lay rigid on the floor in ecstasy, in the poem 'Rose Mary' Rossetti describes how his muse 'stretched her thrilled throat passionately, and sighed from her soul...'

Goodness me.

Reading criticism of Rossetti's paintings, one theme reoccurs.  It's hardly surprising, given that an awful lot of his subject matter is three-quarter length portraits of women, that emphasis tends to be given to the exaggerated necks of his muses.  Comments about the women with 'straining throats', 'dislocated throats' and how his exaggeration of women's necks showed defections in his drawing techniques.

Jane Morris, seated
Reverie (1868)

Looking at these easily comparable images of Jane Morris, it's obvious to see how her throat has been exaggerated, possibly more than any other part of her anatomy.  The question therefore is did Rossetti and his critics know of the phrenology connotations?

As Combe's books were so incredibly widely known, it's hard to imagine that Rossetti and his critics were oblivious to the cerebellum and amativeness, and the pleasures and dangers of thick-necked ladies.  There is an eroticism to Rossetti's female subjects, and from his poetry, it's possible to centre that charge on the 'thrilled throat' of his beautiful women.

Fazio Mistress and her ivory tower of a throat
Taking this further, how much can Fanny Cornforth's reputation be ascribed to phrenological readings of Rossetti's art?  She is undoubtedly the object of much lust in paint, and words like 'vulgar' and 'licentious' are keynotes in her character, as portrayed by her biographers, both contemporary and modern.  What if these qualities were based on an exaggeration of an artist and repeated as fact ever since?

Detail of Beata Beatrix
The most erotic portrayal of Elizabeth Siddal is arguably the postmortem love-song Beata Beatrix, where she sports a marvellously disjointed neck, the sinew straining as she tips back her 'thrilled throat' in spiritual ecstasy.  Look at the odd tension at the base of her throat, as compared to Fazio's Mistress above.  You could argue that the loose hair emphasises the nape of the neck, rather than scraping the tresses back to reveal the cerebellum.  By wearing the hair down, you are hiding your swollen amative shame!

In conclusion, Rossetti was a man who knew about amativeness and knew about women.  What he didn't know about was how allegedly bad it was for women to exhibit aspects of lust, sexual longing and physical expressions of love.  George Combe himself admitted that his own amative region was small and he had not know the 'wild freshness of morning', even when young.  Mmmm, I love the smell of euphemism in the morning (even if I'm not getting any wild freshness).

What once more marks Rossetti out as an atypical Victorian is his refusal to brand his thick-necked lovelies as anything but desirable.  While his critics shook their heads at his ruinous nature, his shabby morals and loucheness, Rossetti was celebrating the sexual urge in womankind, encouraging his tower-necked lovers to be hot of neck and hot of lips, and artistically reaping the rewards of such behaviour.

Good for him.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Music to my Eyes...

One of my favourite pictures of the last year has to be the painting of the harpist by Maxwell Armfield which I reprinted in my review of the year at the end of last month.  I was thinking about it today, and found myself considering how peculiar it is in many ways.  In fact, if you think about it, all pictures of musicians and singers are a bit odd.  Hang on, let me demonstrate...

The Music Lesson David Sani
What is wrong with this image?  Well, nothing, but I was suddenly hit with the oddness of having a silent image of people creating sound.  It's like listening to someone paint, it doesn't tell you anything about the act of creation at all, not in that medium.  So what is the point of images of music?

David Sani's image above gives us one possible reason.  Often in images of people making music, it acts as a metaphor for their love.  The couple above perform a duet, when they can express their love through a lovely song, and still remain decent.  As Elvis once said, Music is the food of love.  Especially when dipped in chocolate.

The Singing Lesson Arturo Ricci
The gentleman above is looking at his pupil with adoration due to her beautiful voice.  Possibly it's because every time she takes a deep breath, she pops out of her corset (and Lord knows, we've all been there).  I had singing lessons when I was a teenager and it wasn't this glamorous.  I was taught by an old lady who had nine whippets that sat and stared at you.  If you hit a duff note, they would whimper.  Whippets are very judgemental.

Fair is my Love (1900) Edwin Abbey
Well, this young lady is certainly fair, and if the gentleman is thinking of Spencer, then he obviously finds her enchanting, however, something about his demeanour makes me think he's somewhat unhappy.  Maybe it's because he's sat on a lumpy root, or maybe he thinks she's dedicating her lute-song to another chap.  Either way, under that floppy hat, he's not best pleased.  Maybe she made him carry her lute?  What a shame, because it seems that music is meant to bring you closer together, like the following pair...

The End of the Song (1902) Edmund Blair Leighton
Who can resist a man with a harp?  The beauty of music is often shown as a winner of hearts, with the listener unable to resist the charms of the musician.  I suppose that is the young girl's father coming up the steps, rubbing his beard in concern.  Mind you, I'm sure Mr Walker would rub his beard in concern if Lily-Rose was courted by some long-haired harpist.

The Duet Frank Dicksee
For women, musical accomplishment is seen as especially beautiful in art.  The pair above radiate heavenly grace and beauty as they silently harmonise.  Looking at images like this, you can almost work out the music from the colours, the shading and tone.  After all, tone can refer to both colour and music, so what does it tell us about the ladies above?  The seated lady plays a light tune, her dress reflecting back the purity of her melody, whereas her companion, partially in shade, plays richer notes, her clothes holding a deeper, more complex pattern.  The women contrast and compliment each other in appearance and by extension their part in the song is reflected in their 'harmony'.

Musica (Melody) (c.1895) Kate Bunce

There is something about a girl with a lute... The beauty of her tune must be equal to the depth and richness of her clothes and that gorgeous mirror behind her.  I always thought she had slightly curious eyes, but maybe she is just desperately trying to remember the tune.  Often women playing music are shown as slightly solemn, possibly even blank in expression.  It's as if all the life, the passion in them is being channelled through their fingers onto the strings.  I do love lute music...

Odalisque with a Lute (1876) Hippolyte Berteaux
Something tells me that her lute playing isn't this young ladies greatest attraction.  In fact, I secretly suspect that she can't play that lute, or at least no-one has ever gotten round to asking her. Maybe if she played her lute, her top would remain closed.  That's what Kate Bunce would say, anyhow.

'Thy Voice is like to Music heard ere Birth...' (1902) Sigismund Goetze
The full title of the above is 'Thy Voice is like to Music heard ere Birth/Some Spirit-Lute touch on a Spirit Sea'. Well, quite, but again shows the wonder of a lute for keeping the front of your blouse together.  So now ladies, if you wish to attract a man, obviously a lute is the answer.

The Pre-Raphaelites, and particularly Rossetti, loved a musical picture (as did my Nan, who had a picture frame that played 'Somewhere My Love' from Dr Zhivago) and I think the notion of hearing the music through colour plays out very expressively in the work of Rossetti.  Take La Ghirlandata...

La Ghirlandata (1871-74) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Those long fingers are plucking out the tunes of the forest, gorgeous and luxurious.  It is an image of sensation; you can smell that bundle of roses, and feel the strings beneath your finger nubs, while you swim in the deep green of the frock and foliage.  The music she plays is of no matter as you are too busy gazing at the beautiful woman with her passive eyes.  Her fingers must express her passion as her gentle expression gives nothing away.

The Bower Meadow (1872) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
I wonder if these maidens, playing their tunes with such vacant expressions are hiding a reason for their song.  Certainly in Rossetti's work I suspect that the women play in order to stave off  impropriety, the music will keep them pure.  While their fingers are busy on the strings they won't be straying, and the women in The Bower Meadow are possibly locked in a musical chastity belt, all of their love and passion channelled through their art.  The flowers may hint at their bloom, so rich and pure, but destined to fade as the song is destined to end.  It reminds me of the Victorian notion that women were ruined by sex, their looks coarsened and lost, so these musical virgins will remain eternally beautiful if only they can keep playing.

How the Devil, Disguised (1907) Frank Cadogan Cowper
Oh deary me, see what happens when you let a man near a musical instrument.  Entire convents are ruined.  I know he's the devil, but when a man has an instrument in his hands, it's often about seduction.  With women, it's usually about the exact opposite.

Dog Playing the Piano (1888) James Carrington
And when it's a dog playing an instrument....actually, I have no idea what that means.  Maybe all those whippets were staring at me because they felt they could do better...

Saturday 12 May 2012

The Beloved Conflation

Happy Birthday Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  For a chap of around 184 years old, you're not doing badly.  In honour of this anniversary (yes, it's not a big one, it's not like they do a special card with a 'Hurrah, You're 184!' badge) today's blog is for you, DGR.

There are so many things I could talk about, in fact there are far too many things to talk about.  I've spent the day flattened by books trying to decide.  In the end I've decided to have a little chat with you about Rossetti and his amazing, morphing desire.  It's one of those things you notice but don't notice, due to the rather fluid nature of Rossetti's depictions of women, but if you take it in context then it becomes rather more significant. What am I talking about?  Dante's Dream.  Both of them.

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (1856)
Dante's Dream (1871)
Rossetti started planning his largest painting as early as 1848, a watercolour finally coming in 1856 with Elizabeth Siddal as the beloved Beatrice.  In Dante's Vita Nuova, Dante's dreams of Beatrice while ill, fearing for his own life, and the climax of his dream sequence is the vision of Beatrice, dead, being covered by a veil.  Taken in the context of his relationship with Elizabeth, then possibly Rossetti had experienced a moment of fear and romance over the possible death of his beloved, that would sadly be borne out.  The poppies that scatter the floor would become more poignant, especially when dropped from a dove's beak into the hands of the dying Beatrice in the grieving Rossetti's picture of his wife.

As he stole the poems from his dead wife's coffin to repurpose for his new love, then it seems to follow he would steal the persona of Beatrice from her too, to hand to Jane Morris.  As early as 1863, a year after Lizzie's death, Rossetti was talking about his desire to execute a large-scale oil of Dante's Dream, although whether he intend to replace Lizzie so early on is doubtful.  In 1863, Rossetti's lover was Fanny, and Fanny was unlikely to be the fragile, virginal Beatrice (even though, early on, she had played the part, but only briefly).  However many times he suggested it, he had to wait until 1869 for a commission. 

By 1869 he was in love with Jane Morris.

In 1869 Rossetti retrieved the poems from the grave.

By 1871, Rossetti was ill, his grip on his physical and mental health was shaky, despite his romance with Jane Morris.  When he recreated and enlarged his vision of Dante's Dream, he made the figures life size, the whole scene becoming so massive that William Graham, the purchaser, had nowhere suitable to hang it, so returned it and requested a smaller copy.  The painting finally was purchased by the Walker Gallery, and before it was hung Rossetti retouched the hair of Beatrice, turning it from brown to golden red.

It seems such a small touch when you view the image, easy to overlook and it does seem of little consequence, but consider the importance of the image.  Like the retrieval and publication of his poems that had been very literally dedicated to Lizzie, but had become a gift to Jane, the role of Beatrice had been handed over too.  Rossetti's identification of himself with Dante Alighieri was a constant, and it is hard to trivialise the significance of the designation of the role of leading lady.  It was a public declaration of his spiritual attachment to Jane, but it could be argued that this would not have been news to anyone by this point.

La PIa de' Tolomei (1868)
Silence (1870)
Dark-eyed portrait after dark-eyed portrait, Jane inhabits almost every corner of Rossetti's imagination in the latter years of his artistic life and her relationship with the artist notches up as many articles and books as the doomed marriage and death of the woman that came before her.  Fanny Cornforth is credited with giving Rossetti his period of mourning before he launched himself into the other great romance of his life, but arguably the two loves are not separate and clear cut.  Look again at the figure of Beatrice in the later Dante's Dream...

While it was not beyond Rossetti to alter the shade of Alexa Wilding's hair from auburn to brick red, and Fanny's hair spanned a range of blonde, Elizabeth and Jane were fairly standard in their appearance.  Possibly Jane's iconic form is the most static in his artistic repertoire, merely bending like a willow from one pose to another.  Jane as Beatrice has an extraordinary dye-job, going to a glorious shade of Titian-red.  At the height of his passion, why would Rossetti wish to change the appearance of the love of his life?

Proserpine (1882)
Jane Morris (1870)

As you can see by these examples, it wasn't the first or last time he would change his beloved Janey's hair colour, but it was certainly the largest in scale.  The life-size declaration of the transfer of his affection is an odd place to hark back to the late Mrs Rossetti.  There is no overlap in his affection, unless you count the brief dalliance in Oxford during the mural campaign of 1857, but at the time Elizabeth was more concerned with Annie Miller's incursion into her relationship with Rossetti.  Emotionally, within the narrative of Rossetti's life, there is no connection between Jane and Lizzie but here, in his art, there is an echo.

It would be easy to dismiss the change as mere artistic whimsy, Rossetti love of red hair is obvious.  However, it could be argued that by altering Jane's iconic dark mane Rossetti explores a conflation of his dead wife and his new love.  Maybe in the unnatural glow of her red hair, Rossetti is signalling the presence of Lizzie in his new soul-union with Jane.  The creature with the glowing red hair was a blend, Lizzie/Jane, both women simultaneously, a dual muse, a double goddess.

The execution and changes to the subject of Dante's dream of his dead beloved brings this collision to a whole new scale.  Where his pictures had been of three-quarter or half length single figures, suddenly an entire cast populated the canvas, including male figures, all full length.  Despite the obvious differences to the 1850s watercolour, the pictures are identical in composition.  Just as Rossetti applied his new aesthetic to Lizzie for Regina Cordium, in Dante's Dream he applies his long abandoned group scene to honour his new love.

While this could be seen as romantic, it can also be seen as an act of disturbance.  Neither Fanny or Annie replicate poses for Rossetti, so why reach for the quality of another woman in the love of your life?  The answer might lie in the breakdown Rossetti was suffering, the disturbance of Lizzie's grave and the publication of the poems that had been buried with her, dedicated to her in every sense of the word.  When those poems were dedicated in spirit to Jane Morris, then the link between the women came into existence and the disintegration of Rossetti found its main ingredient.  If Jane were to be Lizzie, then possibly the grave robbing could be excused, as he was merely rededicating his love.  Instead of Beatrice's death, the scene represents her rebirth, the kiss of love bringing her back from the grave.  Beatrice/Lizzie died in 1862, but in 1869 Beatrice/Jane awoke.  Possibly Rossetti preferred to think it was the kiss of Love that woke her, rather than the sound of a shovel on her coffin lid.

Standing before this canvas, like many of his life-size images, is eerie, so real yet so stylised and beautiful.  It's hard not to feel a little sad for poor Dante, so ill, so scared, his love as fragile as her mortality, yet as strong as eternity.  When Rossetti began work on the large scale version of this image, the conflation of his loves was underway, and this time it would prove to be his, not Beatrice's, death.

Thursday 10 May 2012

I Can Resist Everything But Temptation…

For those people who have the mixed fortune to be friends with me on Facebook, you will already know that I am on a diet, or rather I have radically restructured my approach to the whole ‘eating’ scenario.  This mainly is a matter of me not eating between meals and being sensible, but as my days run from to around nine at night, it sometimes gets a bit rocky and a bit chocolate-y around four in the afternoon.  Anyway (and there is a point to this story) I was sitting at a colleague’s desk the other day, covering her lunch break, and in front of me, for an hour, was a large and insanely delicious looking chocolate fudge cake, which I was invited to eat some of.  But I couldn’t.  For an hour.  That was a very long hour.

Anyhow, it got me thinking, about cake mainly, but also about temptation, and Victorian depictions of it.

Temptation Alfred Duke
Yes, that kind of sums me up.  The dog reminds me of my grandma’s dog, Cindy, who Grampy Fred trained to pick up the change that fell onto the floor in the pub.  Anyway, had this been Cindy the Jack Russell, she would have eaten the meat by now.  I’m sure this is all kinds of metaphoric, but then again it might just be about a terrier’s love of ham. Mmmm, ham….

Temptation (1868) Charles Lidderdale
Here we go, this is a bit more blatant.  Naughty Eve offers the apple to Adam, but hang about, why is Adam only about 12 years old?  And what is going on with that overturned chair?  And what is she holding behind her back??!  As narratives go, this one is somewhat disturbing.  Why does the woman hold out the apple?  She is quite a bit bigger than him and he really does look like a child, so it’s not the run-of-the-mill tale.  Maybe she symbolises adult knowledge, which she is offering him, but that upturned chair worries me, especially as it looks like it’s had a few knife strokes through it.  Is she short of meat for dinner?  I think I’ll move on…

The Temptation Henry Tonks
Now, that’s far less disturbing.  Both the subjects are the same age and there is no hint of cannibalism.  This reminds me a little of Millais’ The Woodsman’s Daughter, but then that didn’t end well either.  Dear me, you start with fruit, you end with unplanned pregnancy and death.  Where’s a Jack Russell when you need one?

If you go looking for Victorian images of temptation, you get a barrel-full of religious ones, obviously, with all manner of knights and saints, not to mention Jesus himself, with lots of tempting going on…

Temptation in the Wilderness (1901) Alfred Strutt

‘No!  You’re not having any of my packed lunch! I don’t care how saucy you look!’

There is also a fair number of ‘Gosh, aren’t you temptingly pretty..?’ pictures, like so….
Temptation Talbot Hughes
‘Look at the powder on her!’ No wonder this fine looking gentleman finds the lady so attractive, even if she has dozed off while reading (that happens to me).  She hasn’t started drooling or snoring yet, so she is very pretty.  However, he might just be tempted to drop ice cubes down her corset.

Temptation in the House of God Luigi da Rios
It took me a moment to realise who is being tempted and by what.  The scene is dominated by the central figure of a nice looking woman in a fantastic coloured skirt, who is about to kneel and pray, like the woman next to her.  In the shadows, a man peeks around the drapery at her.  He should be paying attention to the word of God, but instead he is paying rather wistful attention to a girl in a paisley shawl.  Well, it’ll all come out in confession later no doubt…

Temptation Thomas Kennington
Other than Arthur Hacker’s marvellous picture of the temptation of Sir Percival, above, this is possibly my favourite tempting picture, if only because she appears to be eating a bright red feather duster.  She is obviously tempted to marry the old man for his golden box of goodness, which would be ‘a bad thing’ apparently.  I love that where the woman is, there is colour and light, but moving to the left of the canvas, the colours drain to just a dirty gold colour, suggesting that you’d get your money, but that is all.  All the colour goes out of your life when you get rich.  Apparently.

The Tempter Charles Halle
Similarly, if you marry the scary man, you can have a glowing castle.  Alternatively, you can remain poor, with only a poster of the glowing castle, in a ‘Look what you could have won!’ sort of way.  Is that a picture?  Is it a window?  Exactly how scary is that man?  Maybe he is an allegorical figure of temptation but I can’t imagine what he’s tempting her to do.  She appears to be turning over the fabric on the table, one side is plain and one side is richly patterned.  Does she have to choose which side she likes best?  Chose the pattern!  Come on, you live somewhere that redefines rustic, and not in a good way.  Go live in the castle!  Chances are your rich husband will be old and he’ll die and then you’ll be a rich widow.  Moral qualms are for people who don’t have to live in hovels.  Take the gold, then regret your decision from the comfort of a nice sofa. 

Oh well, back to the diet.  Turns out I can resist chocolate fudge cake, but am helpless in the face of old rich men with oodles of gold.  It’s a good thing they aren’t fattening….