What is a Pre-Raphaelite Muse?
The text below gives a brief history of Pre-Raphaelite art and Pre-Raphaelite Muses. It also explains the artistic journey that led to the Pre-Raphaelite Muses website and the 'Pre-Raphaelite Muses International Calendar 2015'.
The term Pre-Raphaelite comes from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) who were a group of English painters, poets and critics formed in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These founders were later joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member ‘Brotherhood’.
The Pre-Raphaelites rejected the style of art idealised and promoted by the Royal Academy, which was exemplified in the work of Renaissance master Raphael. The Brotherhood started a famous artistic movement creating art with a romantic style and emphasis on romanticism, detail, nature, medieval history, legends (including Arthurian Legend) and symbolism.
The Brotherhood’s artistic movement went on to influence other artists of the time including Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris who painted scenes from poetry and medieval legends.
Pre-Raphaelite Muses in Paintings
These artists and poets were inspired by beautiful Muses who posed for their paintings. It is fair to say that these Muses were essential to Pre-Raphaelite art as the focus of many of the paintings was a female character. These women were often discovered by the artists themselves. Some of these Muses were also artists in their own right.
Many of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings have a Muse modelling as the character they are portraying. The paintings often depicted scenes in nature with their Muse wearing historical costume. In fact, from the style of costumes worn, which were not always historically accurate but rather inspired by the eras portrayed, this style of dress is now often referred to as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’.
The original Muses
Some of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite Muses include Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, Jane Morris, Effie Gray, Annie Miller and Alexa Wilding. The Muses in these paintings had a certain romantic look which is now often referred to as a ‘Pre-Raphaelite look’. The Pre-Raphaelite Muses became famous models, their beauty immortalised in paintings such as the John Everett Millais 1862 masterpiece, Ophelia, which Elizabeth Siddal posed for.
The Muses were everyday women, with a look that the artist was inspired by for their painting. Jane Morris was discovered by Rossetti while she attended a show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Elizabeth Siddal was working as a milliner in Cranbourne Alley, London by artist Deverell who then introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelites. Jane went on to marry William Morris, and Lizzy Siddal married Rossetti. Most Pre-Raphaelite Muses were the lovers or wives of the artists, and sometimes friends or family. The Muses’ background, age, shape, and hair colours varied, but they all had the same ‘look’.
The Pre-Raphaelite Artistic Movement
In the movement each artist had their own unique style and favourite subject matter. A classic Pre-Raphaelite painting might include props, for instance a medieval instrument such as a harp, be set in nature or with drapery framing the scene with a beautiful woman posing as a medieval lady. Subjects ranged from Arthurian legend, mythology and tales from ancient Greece, to biblical scenes.
Famous and popular paintings include La Ghirlandata modelled by Alexa Wilding, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse based on the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Some of my other favourite examples are ‘The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon’ painted by Edward Burne-Jones, ‘A Mermaid’ by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse, ‘A Midsummer’s Eve’ by Edward Robert Hughes R.W.S. and ‘The Accolade’ by Edmund Blair Leighton.
Creating a new artistic movement
It was in the mid-19th century that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their artistic movement began, and it ended not long after the beginning of the 20th century. However there was a wealth of paintings from this short period that has remained important in the world of art.
The time of the Pre-Raphaelite Muse has passed, but can it be revived? After joining on-line social networks I found more and more people ‘like me’; people who appreciated art, believed in faeries and saw beauty in all people on the inside and out. I also discovered artists of today who painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style.
I did not know there were others out there with whom I shared so much in common; women with a Pre-Raphaelite look who dressed in Pre-Raphaelite costume and posed for paintings, who played medieval instruments, created art inspired by faery tales, and deeply cared about nature and felt connected to other realms. They may have lived in different parts of the world, but we shared the same inspiration and love for Pre-Raphaelite art.
Who were we? We were collectively today’s modern Pre-Raphaelite Muses. Maybe we had been dropped in the wrong century, with email instead of letters, and photographers taking our pictures as well as artists painting us [instead of the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood] but we would describe ourselves as essentially ‘Pre-Raphaelite Muses’.
So, what do modern Pre-Raphaelite Muses do?
Apart from modelling for paintings and Pre-Raphaelite style photography, they often have other things in common such as being artists and caring about nature. I wanted to share with the world our modern Pre-Raphaelite art and felt inspired.
I decided to create a calendar; the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Muses International Calendar 2015’. This calendar has photographs of modern Pre-Raphaelite Muses from all over the world. Each photograph has taken inspiration from the Muse’s love of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic style and the famous Muses from the 19th century.
The Muses in the Calendar
Each Muse in the calendar holds a special type of beauty that is described as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’. Apart from all being artists’ models who pose in the Pre-Raphaelite style for photography, paintings and drawings, they are also artists themselves, care about nature, and inspire others through their being and ideals. All the Muses in this calendar were chosen not only for their unique beauty and artistic endeavours, but also because they have a passion for Pre-Raphaelite art. Every page has text about who each Muse is and their art. There are musicians, writers, crafters and artists.
What is the difference between a Model and a Muse?
One of the most important things about the Muses featured in the calendar and on this website is that they are not simply models dressing up in a certain style, they are being themselves. Art is part of who they are and every Muse has an artistic talent. They have not been asked to 'dress' as a Pre-Raphaelite Muse, it is already part of who they are and what they enjoy.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had four early declarations:
1.To have genuine ideas to express.
2. To study nature attentively, so as to know how to express it.
3. To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote.
4. Most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.
In the spirit of following the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s path, I would say that the modern Pre-Raphaelite Muses declarations would be:
1. To be inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art and to help create new art in this style
2. To promote natural beauty on the inside and out, and to not conform to modern beauty ideals.
3. To care for nature and wildlife and to promote their beauty.
4. To develop one’s own art whether it be paintings, writing, music, crafts or dramatic art.