Friday, 20 May 2016

#10: Mariana

This is the only Pre-Raphaelite picture that I like, really. It shows Mariana, still in love with Angelo, deputy to the Duke of Vienna, who rejected her when her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. The story is from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and was originally exhibited at the Royal Academy with these lines from Tennyson’s Mariana:

She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

The life of this woman is made up of surfaces and representations. She is working on a piece of sewing showing flowers and leaves, with leaves scattered around which presumably she has been copying. When she stands up from her work, she can only see the outside world through stained glass. Behind her the wall itself is patterned, and there is a desk with religious images to contemplate (perhaps for kneeling at, since there is no chair).

She stands up to stretch her back like someone who has sat at a computer too long, (also in a virtual world). It is this that I like, I think – the naturalness and motion in her posture. If you wanted to you could take this as a critique of Pre-Raphaelite art itself – a rejection of the poses, the symbolism, the intricately ornamented surfaces.

And yet I’m drawn to such interiors too – they speak also of a peaceful contemplative existence. I would pair it with a picture like this, by William Ratcliffe, one of the ‘Camden Town’ group of early 20th century artists. He often painted artists’ rooms and houses; this is called ‘cottage interior’. A cup of tea on the table, a vase of flowers, everyday greenery outside – ordinary pleasures.

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