Gender and Sexuality - Androgyny and Masculinity
Created by Amelia Yeates
21 May 2009
This is a learning resource on Gender and Sexuality. This is the seventh of seven parts.
Although concerned with conventional gender ideals such as female beauty and male heroism, the Pre-Raphaelites did, in many respects, depict unconventional figures in terms of their gender. Rossetti’s women generally had thick necks and square jaws, features associated with masculinity, and Burne-Jones’s male and female figures were often androgynous looking. This was certainly a feature of his work that was commented on when he started displaying at the Grosvenor Gallery from its opening in 1877. Some of Solomon’s figures were also somewhat androgynous, as for example in The Singing of Love.
The Times claimed that there was something ‘unmanly’ about this work (11 Feb., 1871, p. 4).
What do you think being manly meant at this time and why might this work have been seen as unmanly?
Busst, A. J. L., ‘The Image of the Androgyne in the Nineteenth Century’, Romantic Mythologies. Ed. Ian Fletcher. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, pp. 1-95.
Much less has been written about masculinity in Pre-Raphaelite art than femininity but it is an equally pertinent, if less obvious, topic. In being drawn to images and scenarios of rescue, Pre-Raphaelite artists posited the man as rescuer. This is echoed by their preference for the medieval period when gender relations were governed by a chivalric code. Sir Galahad and Launcelot were therefore popular figures for Pre-Raphaelite artists, as in Rossetti’s Sir Galahad at the Ruined Chapel and Solomon’s The Death of Sir Galahad while taking a Portion of the Holy Grail administered by Joseph of Arimathea and Rossetti’s Launcelot at the Shrine of the Holy Grail: Study for the Figures of Guenevere and Launcelot.
Saint George was another popular hero and the subject of several works by Rossetti and Burne-Jones. However, an interest in stories of heroism and rescue did not necessarily mean that Pre-Raphaelite protagonists were always conventionally masculine. Burne-Jones’s Prince for example in his Briar Rose series is more gentle and hesitant and than assertive and active.
Looking at the images of Sir Galahad and Launcelot, how has the male protagonist been represented?
Cheney, Liana de Girolami (ed.), Pre-Raphaelitism and Medievailsm in the Arts. Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 1992
Discuss this collection