Friday, December 08, 2006

Pre-Raphaelite Red-Heads at the Tate
(The last of three postings about our first trip to London; to read these in order, start below, with the posting on The British Museum)

The English pre-Raphaelites—Holman Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Maddox Brown, Waterhouse—were one eccentric group of Englishmen who thought that red hair was beautiful. One of the accidental pleasures of visiting the Tate Britain for the Holbein exhibit (see below) was being able to follow it up with a tour of the wonderful pre-Raphaelite collection on the second floor. In fact, the "most popular painting" at the Tate is John Everett Millais' red-headed "Ophelia" (1852). What I found fascinating were three pre-Raphaelite paintings in which Jesus and the Virgin Mary are depicted as red-heads (click to enlarge the images):

John Everett Millais, "Christ in the House of His Parents" (1849)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Ecce Ancilla Domini" (1850)

Ford Maddox Brown, "Christ Washing St. Peter's Feet" (1856)

In the last painting, notice the dark-haired woman behind St. Peter (why is St. Peter depicted as an old man?). The other pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, modeled for Brown as the disciples while he was painting this canvas. The dark-haired woman is Rossetti's sister, Christina Rossetti (author of "In the Bleak Midwinter," pictured left). In her brother's "Ecce Ancilla Domini," she is transformed into a red-head as the model for the Virgin Mary.

For a "guided tour" of pre-Raphaelite red-heads, click this link.

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