Before we were married, Kathleen gave me a book on the Pre-Raphaelites. At the time I had never heard of them. She instinctively knew I'd like them, and I did. The Pre-Rapahaelite Brotherhood was a school of artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which held that the painter Raphael had corrupted painting through his use of classical poses. The Brotherhhod particularly rejected the Mannerist school of painting as mechanistic. Whatever their philosophy, the pre-Rapahelites gave us incredible detail and brilliant use of color. Their themes could be overly sentimental, but their best work shows emphasizes the beauty of nature and the human form. And just sometimes they give us a glimpse into the soul.
One favorite theme of the Pre-Raphelites was the Arthurian cycle of legend, and its many interpretations. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott," loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, was the subject of several pre-Raphaelite paintings, including three by John William Waterhouse. The poem tells of a woman who is confined to a tower, and is cursed to weave a magic web without looking at the world. When Sir Lancelot passes by her tower, she is so enamored of him that she abandons her loom and sets off in a boat to pursue the knight. Because of the curse, she dies before reaching Camelot.
"'I am Half Sick of Shadows,' said the "Lady of Shalott," pictured above, illustrates the following stanza:
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.
The painting now hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. A larger copy of the painting can be found here. And yes, I fell in love with the woman at the loom the first time I saw the painting. Kathleen doesn't have a lot to worry about. For one thing, the woman's hair and figure are very much like Kathleen's And for another, the painting is from 1916, and the model for the picture has surely passed on.