Essay about Images of Victorian Women by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Essay about Images of Victorian Women by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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The Victorian Era was one of great changes in England. Revolutionary movements, such as the Chartist demonstration and the fall of the Second Empire in France, paved the way for new ideologies. The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by the changing atmosphere of the times and through their art attempted to introduce emotion, realism and originality back into British painting. The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, F.G. Stephens, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, and William Michael Rossetti. These seven men chose to reject the Italian Renaissance, in particular Raphael’s influence, which was the style favoured by the British Royal Academy. Part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s rejection of the Italian Renaissance was renouncing idealized images of women, such as Botticelli's Birth of Venus or Titian's Venus of Urbino. Instead, later Pre-Raphaelite art focussed on the harsh lives of women during the Victorian Era. Women were confined by strict gender roles and faced severe repercussions for any action deemed by society to be undesirable, such as walking through the streets unchaperoned or having sexual relations outside of marriage. Through their art, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood depicted stereotypical views of women. Women are frequently depicted as at the mercy of their emotions, “fallen,” and sensual, exotic objects.
The theme of a woman being destroyed by love is common in many early Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are often inspired by historical events and literature. John Everett Millais chose to depict Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Macbeth as she commits suicide and drowns, heartbroken and mad with grief after the murder of her father by...


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...eth Siddall. The paintings of Pre-Raphaelite artists imply that women fell into two categories: the chaste, maternal figure or the harlot. The subjects in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, are often defined by their relation to men, just as women in Victorian society were defined by their fathers, brothers, and sons. Though the feminist movement gained popularity during the Victorian era, women were still expected to be “. . . private and almost anonymous.” Victorian society was extremely preoccupied with controlling its members, as seen by the elaborate protocol governing the behaviour of women, yet at the same time it was also mesmerized by those who deviated from social expectations, like the “fallen women.” In Victorian England, art became a method for artists to express and grapple with a variety of societal problems, such as prostitution and the status of women.

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