Gender and Sexuality - Desire
Created by Amelia Yeates
21 May 2009
This is a learning resource on Gender and Sexuality. This is the first of seven parts.
Much literature on the Pre-Raphaelites has focused on the issue of gender and sexuality as their work contains images of mythological women, lovers and, as Pre-Raphaelitism developed into Aestheticism, androgynous-looking figures. There is also the issue of gendered production – the Brotherhood were a group of young male artists but several female associates of the original Brotherhood or the later Oxford grouping were themselves artists, writers or craftspeople.
This resource has been created as seven seperate sections. These are:
2 Working Women
3 Ideal Women
4 Virtuous Women
6 Femme Fatales
7 Androgyny and Masculinity
The Pre-Raphaelites had a respectful attitude towards women, believing in chivalry. Such attitudes would be popularised by texts such as Ruskin’s ‘Of Queens’ Gardens’ (1864). However, the Pre-Raphaelites still saw women as objects of desire, labelling beautiful women as ‘stunners’. This would be expressed most sensuously in Rossetti’s work. Holman Hunt had depicted lovers in The Awakening Conscience and The Hireling Shepherd but would later focus on more religious subjects whilst Madox Brown favoured historical themes.
As important to the Pre-Raphaelites as desire was love. Despite the practical need, the Victorian ideal of marriage was as loving or, at the very least, companionate.
Looking at the following images of love or lovers, how is love represented? Are the lovers real, historical, literary or allegorical? What messages might the work convey about love?
Rossetti, Two Lovers
Rossetti, Two Lovers at a Window
Millais, Lovers by a Rosebush
Arthur Hughes, The Long Engagement
Simeon Solomon, Love
Simeon Solomon, The Singing of Love
Rossetti’s personal model of ideal love was that of Dante and Beatrice, the subject of many of his works, including Beata Beatrix, The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Paradise and The Salutation of Beatrice.
How does Rossetti represent the relationship between Dante and Beatrice in these works and what does his treatment suggest about the way in which he viewed their story?
Munro, Paolo and Francesca: This subject, also treated by Rossetti (1855 watercolour, Tate collection), is taken from Dante’s Inferno. Paolo is Francesca’s brother-in-law; their love is therefore illicit. Munro’s sculpture shows the lovers together, the act of reading inspiring them to act on their own love.
How does Munro’s sculpture compare to Rossetti’s watercolour?
Does Dante actually describe the lovers reading?
If so, what are they reading?
Kern, Stephen, Eyes of Love: The Gaze in English and French Paintings and Novels 1840-1900. London: Reaktion Books, 1996
Discuss this collection