Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ALEXA WILDING, THE BELLE OF WAKING DREAMS

Veronica Veronese, 1872
In Rossetti's Veronica Veronese, the domestic interior serves a purpose, highlighting the process of absorption in interior thought that is central to the scene. The female figure, a pale red-haired beauty of the Rossettian type, sits at a desk upon which a book of music lies open. The woman fingers a violin's bow and strings absently, while staring dreamily into space. Behind her, a caged bird perches in a cage and sings. The domestic space that surrounds the figure is severely truncated - her little desk is pushed against one wall in front of her, and the bird cage creates another limit just behind her. A third wall draped with heavy-looking patterned fabric greatly reduces the depth of the room.

This claustrophobic domestic space resembles an extension of the woman's clothing. The figure wears an opulent dress of green velvet, the folds of which echo the drapery on the wall behind her. The colors of the wall and the garment are remarkably similar, heightening this effect. It seems Rossetti wishes to connect the figure and her surroundings, subtly implying the room is actually a part of the woman. This technique aids in the creation of a feeling of interiority. The walls and the woman are one. Nothing external to the female figure intrudes upon this private space, which is a prime setting for introspection and personal contemplation.

From Victorian Web

Lady Lilith, 1868
Lilith, whose character originates in Assyrian mythology, recurs in Judaic literature as the first wife of Adam. She is associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children. The depiction of women as powerful and evil temptresses was prevalent in nineteenth-century painting, particularly in that of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Rossetti wrote a poem, which is inscribed on the frame, to accompany this work:

Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve),
That, ere the snake's, n'er sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright net she can weave.
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.

Rossetti depicts Lilith as an iconic, Amazon-like woman with long, flowing hair. She idles listlessly in a richly decorated interior, dreamily admiring her reflection in a mirror. Her languid demeanor is reiterated by the poppy-the flower associated with opium-induced slumber-in the lower right corner.

Though Rossetti originally based the woman's image on his mistress, Fanny Cornforth, he later repainted it with the more classical features of Alexa Wilding, one of his favored models at the time. Rosetti's watercolor replica of this painting, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, retains the more sensual features of the original model.


Delaware Museum

11 comments:

Bachelor said...

Rebecca,
Thank you for your post of these loving paintings. There is so much to discover. Rossetti did well. His ladies' strong jaw lines are exquisite. The violin reminds me of my dad's violin which I now have hanging on my wall. I'll have to post it sometime.

willow said...

WT and I were just discussing Lilith the other night. The mysterious female character in the film "The Nineth Gate" was modeled after her.

Very interesting note on Alexa Wilding, also! She is recognizable in many of his works.

Nice post, Rebecca.

DeeDee said...

Rebecca...Just beautiful..I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed this post. What a wonderful discovery of Rossetti, and to have you describe the paintings in detail made them all the more interesting. I love your parlor..the painting over the mantel is just lovely...Dee Dee

Rebecca said...

Bachelor,

Thanks for the comments. I would love to see that violin. I've wanted to learn to play for ages and keep telling myself I will one of these days.

Rebecca said...

Willow, I haven't seen that movie in ages. It is the Roman Polanski one with Johnny Depp, right?

Rebecca said...

DeeDee, Thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. The print of "A Sea Spell" in the parlor makes me smile everytime I look up at her. I love how Rossetti positioned hands in his artwork. They always look so graceful.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Rebecca, I feel so blessed that you love to share your knowledge with us. Whether its historical figures, or places, or artists and paintings like today. I didn't know that such lovely poetry was composed in honour of, and as an accompaniment to, Rossetti's paintings.

These ladies are so lovely; he was a master at capturing skin tones and the varied richness of different hair colours.

Your parlour is so elegant and lovely. I enlarged the photo of your parlour and had a good look; your taste is exquisite.

Thanks again for these posts.

Rebecca said...

You are too kind, Lavinia.

Rossetti, and most if not all other Pre-Raphaelite artists, applied bright transparent colors in thin glazes onto a smooth, white background, most often on canvas. Using a white background, rather than a colored one, gives luminosity to a painting. These artists would then build up color through glazing. This imitates the effect of light falling on a subject and gives a depth that cannot be obtained by using colors mixed on a palette. It's been a mission of mine to really master this technique. I'm a LONG way from getting there but I love decoding their recipes.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Rebecca, that's fascinating....I have heard snippets from time to time about the secrets of the techniques of history's great painters. Many are still shrouded in secrecy...no one can yet figure out how certain effects were accomplished....

Ms Dragonfly said...

men have been so afraid of us!

Blog Princess G said...

I love the Pre-Raphaelites, and urge anyone who can to visit the quite excellent collection in Delaware's Art Museum, which houses the greatest collection of these artists outside of England. I've visited and it's a joy... and so beautifully housed. There is much else to see there too.

http://www.preraph.org/

I also find it interesting that as Lilith became more demonized in myth as time went on, so in recent times, she has come to represent a feminist element in the old myths, of a woman who refused to subjugate herself to Adam's will and left of her own accord.

Thank you for your delightful and informative post Rebecca! :)