• The Sphinx is on the left. Youth is dead or dying in the foreground; Manhood gazes at the Sphinx; Age is climbing up the rock.
    Femmes Fatales

    Although several Pre-Raphaelite artists admired female virtue, they were also intrigued by the figure of the femme fatale. Shearer West has suggested that in their voluminous mass and their dominant sexual presence, Rossetti’s women of the 1860s are an early example of the femme fatale. Rossetti’s The Question (The Sphinx) represents a mythological femme fatale, whilst his Lady Lilith depicts the sexual first wife of Adam.
  • The sorceress Morgan-le-Fay turned to the left and wearing a green robe with various additional layers including a yellow apron decorated with Pict symbols and a leopard skin.  Her head is tilted slightly backwards.  She is looking down at an open book on the ground and has her mouth open as if speaking.  Her arms are stretched out in front of ther and she holds a lit dragon-shaped lamp in her right hand.  In front of her is black robe with red details draped over the top of a dresser.  Small tongues of flame sprout from the draped robe.  Between Morgan and the robe is a lit tripod brazier and behind this is a frienze decorated with Egyptian animal Gods and Japanese roundels.  On the right behind Morgan Le Fay  is a loom with two owls nestling on top of it.
    Frederick Sandys, Morgan Le Fay and Sandys, Medea. Both of these oil paintings represent a sorceress.

    What visual signifiers does the painter include to indicate that the character is a femme fatale?

    What are the sources for both of the paintings?
  • Half-length seated figure of Medea. Her head is tilted slightly to her right and she faces the spectator.  She claws at her red necklace whilst pouring liquid from a beaker into a lit burner.  Her long hair is loose.  She wears a headband, long earrings and a white dress.  On the left in the foreground is a pair of copulating toads and a small Egyptian sculpture.  On the right is a abalone shell.  She sits in front of a gold background decorated with a ship on the left, flying cranes and the golden fleece hanging in a grove of trees.  Below the gilt decoration is a dragon, his legs on the left and his head on the right.


    Frederick Sandys

    1866 – 1868

  • Woman facing left combing her hair and looking in a mirror.
    Further Reading:

    West, Shearer, Fin de siècle: art and society in an age of uncertainty. London: Bloomsbury, 1993

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