Sisterhood of the Pre-Raphaelites, the women in the pictures
If ever there was an art style that was branded then it has to be the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Its use of gorgeous, languid female sitters with cascading, locks, elegant necks and dreamy eyes are synonymous with the movement’s paintings of Celtic myths, Greek tragedies and Biblical epics. These mid-nineteenth century women, were the supermodels of their age, the perfect image of Victorian womanhood in tragic, demure and romantic poses. But who were these Egyptian princesses, Roman Goddesses and Arthurian damsels?
Like the WAGS (wives and girlfriends) of many of today’s sporting stars these women were unremarkable, from ordinary working class backgrounds, domestics, serving in shops, and bars. Their looks and demeanor though were captured by the great artists of the day and together they were responsible for engendering the style and grace found in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddall
Born 1829 in Hatton Garden, her father had a cutlery business and at an early age the family moved to Southwark. Lizzie’s mother taught her to read and write and she developed a love of poetry.
Walter Deverell first noticed Lizzie as she worked in a Milliners shop and he approached her to model for him. It was then that she met Dante Gabrielle Rossetti one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelites and for a while she worked exclusively as Rossetti’s model and muse. They would eventually marry and Siddall sadly died not long after losing her baby prematurely, and subsequently accidentally overdosing on laudanum in 1862 aged 33.
The grief stricken Rossetti buried all his poems, he had written with her but seven years later he decided to exhume the body, to retrieve and publish them. It was said that Lizzie body was the same as the day she was buried, except for her hair, which had continued to grow and now filled the coffin.
Dante’s brother, William described Lizzie as tall, finely formed with a lofty neck and a lavish, heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.
Paintings featuring Elizabeth Siddall
Twelfth Night 1850, Walter Deverell
Ophelia 1852, Sir John Everett Millais
Beata Beatrix 1863, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti (completed a year after her death)
Jane Morris Nee Burden
The daughter of a Stableman in Oxford, Jane Morris was born in 1839. Noticed by Dante Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones whilst attending a play, they persuaded her to model for an Arthurian mural they had been commissioned to paint. Through the pair she met and eventually married William Morris and had two daughters, Jenny and May, who can also be found amongst the paintings of the group.
Jane became the object of obsession for Dante Rossetti and featured in many of his paintings after the death of his wife. He and Jane also embarked on a secret love affair that lasted many years until his death in 1882. Jane Morris lived until 1914 and died in Bath
Paintings featuring Jane Morris
Queen Guinevere 1858, William Morris
The Blue Silk Dress 1868, Dante Rossetti
Persephone 1874, Dante Rossetti
Mariana 1870, Dante Rossetti
Christ Church Stained Glass Window, Oxford, Edward Burne-Jones
Fanny Cornforth aka Sara Cox
Fanny was a housemaid who became a model and lover of Dante Rossetti, born Sara Cox in 1835, Steyning, Surrey. She later took the name of her first husband’s stepfather, Cornforth and married for a second time in 1860 to a Timothy Hughes as a response to Rossetti own marriage to Lizzie Siddall.
After the death of Lizzie Siddall, Cornforth moved into Rossetti’s house as a housemaid but was also his lover at the same time. Her course accent, Ginger tresses and fuller figure attracted cruel comments from his friends and family but they remained close for the whole of his life. It is not certain when she died but was known to be suffering with dementia in 1905.
Paintings featuring Fanny Cornforth
Bocca Bacciata 1859, Dante Rossetti
Sidonia von Bork 1860, Edward Burne-Jones
Lucrezia Borgia 1861, Dante Rossetti
Fair Rosamund 1861, Dante Rossetti
Helen of Troy 1863, Dante Rossetti
The Three Graces
Maria Zambaco nee Kassavetti
Maria was a wealthy, Greek heiress born in 1848. After a short failed marriage with Dr Zambaco she moved in with her mother in London and met Edward Burne-Jones who feel in love with her uncommonly beauty and asked her to model for him.
The had an affair together, which became the scandal of society, when it was discovered by Burne-Jones’s wife and she threatened to commit suicide he ended it. Burne-Jones though remained obsessed with her always painting her as a temptress or witch.
Along with her cousin Maria Stillmann, Zambaco was also an accomplished painter and sculptor in her own right and produced a number of well-received artworks within the Pre-Raphaelite style.
Paintings featuring Zambaco
The Tree of Forgiveness 1882, Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin 1874, Burne-Jones
Marie Stillmann Nee Spartali
Marie was born in London, the daughter of a Greek Merchant and Consulate official. She is renowned as one of the Pre-Raphaelite models and as an accomplished artist within the movement. Her cousin Marie Zambaco was also famous as a model and painter too.
Marie was a tall woman, with long dark, wavy hair, and dark, piercing eyes. Rossetti described her as one of his most intellectual models.
Stillmann studied under Ford Madox-Brown and modelled for Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Whistler, while the subjects of her own work were typical Pre-Raphaelite, Shakespeare, Dante Angliari, and Italian landscapes. She died in 1927 aged 84 and is interred in the family tomb at West Norwood Cemetery. The London Times obituary describes her “legendary beauty is imperfectly preserved in Dante Rossetti’s paintings.”
Paintings featuring Stillmann
The Mill 1882, Burne-Jones (features the three graces, Stillmann, Zamabco and Coronio)
The Bower Meadow 1872, Rossetti (along with Alexa Wilding and May Morris)
Fiammetta 1878, Rossetti
La Princesse, Whistler
The Pre-Raphaelite Damsels
1835 – 1925, another of the working class women was working behind a bar when discovered by William Hunt becoming his model and lover, Miller was also painted by Dante Rossetti but this caused trouble between the two artists.
Paintings featuring Miller
Awakening of Conscience, Hunt
Woman in Yellow 1863, Rossetti
Alexa “Alice” Wilding
Alexa met Rossetti in the spring of 1865 by accident as he walked to the Arundel Club, struck by her beauty he asked her to model for him. Alexa didn’t keep their first appointment but at a second meeting he managed to persuade her to become his model.
Wilding was described as having “a lovely face, beautifully moulded in every feature, full of quiescent, soft, mystical repose.”
Paintings featuring Wilding
Monna Vanna 1866, Rossetti
The Blessed Damozel 1875, Rossetti (May Morris the left-hand angel)
Lady Lilith 1868, Rossetti (two versions exist, the other with Cornforth)
The Bower Meadow 1872, Rossetti
The Loving Cup 1867, Rossetti
Venus 1864-68, Rossetti
Effie Gray Ruskin – Millais
Euphemia was born in 1828 in Perth, Scotland and grow up in the house where Ruskin’s grandfather committed suicide. She was encouraged to marry art critic John Ruskin but with great Victorian scandal she had the marriage annulled after five years due to the fact it had not been consummated, and married the painter John Everett Millais.
Paintings featuring Gray
The Order of Release 1853, Millais
Waiting 1854, Millais (arguments over whether it is Gray or Miller as the model)
William Hunt and John Everett Millais spent the summer and autumn of 1851 painting landscapes around Ewell Castle as backgrounds for their latest paintings. After one session the two were talking to the local girls and persuaded Emma Watkins to return to London with them as the model for “The Hireling Shepherd.”
After completing the painting Watkins decided modelling and London life was not for her and returned home to marry a young sailor.
Paintings featuring Watkins
The Hireling Shepherd 1851, Hunt
Other Female Artist relate Hubs
Female Painters of the Renaissance 1400 - 1600
Renaissance Painter - Sofonisba Anguissola
Boroque Painter - Artemisia Gentileschi
Rococo Painter - Roselba Carriera
Victorian Painter - Mirriam North
Welsh Painter - Gwen John
Dadaist Painter - Hannah Hoch
Textured Ideas on October 07, 2011:
Great hub! I too watched Desperate Romantics which was a very fun adaptation. I just love the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and how they tried to reinvent the art scene at the time. Such intense colour, elegant detail and passion within their work. They certainly had interesting lives and relationships!!
knell63 (author) from Umbria, Italy on July 22, 2010:
Hi Amanda, no problem at all, thank you for the push, I will return the compliment.
Amanda Severn from UK on July 22, 2010:
Hi Neil, just to let you know that I have linked one of my hubs on the Pre-Raphaelites to this hub. Hope that's ok.
Jane Bovary from The Fatal Shore on May 01, 2010:
Recently I watched the BBC series "Desperate Romantics" and it stirred my interest in the Pre-Rapheaelites. Perhaps they were romanticised in the series but I didn't get the impression Lizzie Siddel or Jane Morris, in particular were 'unremarkable". Didn't Jane become an accomplished pianist and learn fluent French and Italian...? That's pretty unusual for a working-class girl who had no formal education before she met Morris.I don't think it's quite fair to describe her as a "footballers wife"..
Anyway, apart from that I enjoyed the hub. Rossetti sure made a mistake burying that poetry......a grand romantic gesture ruined by his later actions.
knell63 (author) from Umbria, Italy on April 24, 2010:
Thanks Kaie, I am glad you liked it.
Kaie Arwen on April 24, 2010:
This was great............ thank you!
knell63 (author) from Umbria, Italy on April 20, 2010:
Thanks Paradise, I am glad you enjoy reading them.
I agree Amanda about Jane Morris and the Monna Vanna study is a lovely painting, I also love the painting of Maria Zabaco by Burne-Jones, such sultry Mediterranean looks. All the painters were a bunch of dirty old goats mind.
Amanda Severn from UK on April 20, 2010:
I thoroughly enjoyed this. The Pre-Raphaelites are some of my favourite artists, and the faces of their models have been given a measure of immortality at the touch of a brush. My favourite has always been Alexa Wilding, probably because I particuarly like the Monna Vanna. Jane Burden/ Morris had very heavy features by comparison.
Paradise7 from Upstate New York on April 18, 2010:
LOVELY hub! Thank you, and you really do know your topic.