Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Absurd," Antiquarian, and "Modern-Antique" Medievalism(s): Girlhood of Mary Virgin, the Bride's Prelude, and "Stratton Water"

By Bentley, D. M. R. | Victorian Poetry, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Absurd," Antiquarian, and "Modern-Antique" Medievalism(s): Girlhood of Mary Virgin, the Bride's Prelude, and "Stratton Water"


Bentley, D. M. R., Victorian Poetry


"I wish ... that you would not attempt to defend my mediaevalisms, which were absurd, but rather say that there was enough good in the works to give assurance that these were merely superficial. My picture should be described as the 'Girlhood' & by no means 'Education.'" (1) So wrote Dante Gabriel Rossetti to his brother in September 1851 after reading a draft of "Pre-Raphaelitism," the article defending the early paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-53) that William Michael would revise and then publish in the Spectator on October 4 of that year. (2) Coming as they do less than a year after the exhibition of Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850-51) (the only other picture besides Girlhood of Mary Virgin [1849-50] to which the word "works" can refer), Rossetti's remarks raise questions that are both sharply focused and far-reaching as regards the relationship between Pre-Raphaelitism and medievalism. What precisely are the "mediaevalisms" in Girlhood of Mary Viran and Ecce Ancilla Domini! and why, in retrospect, did Rossetti regard them as "absurd"? How do his remarks reflect a shift in his thinking about "mediaevalisms" and their artistic uses and, if so, when and why did this shift occur and where and how does it fit into the narrative of Pre-Raphaelite medievalism in which Rossetti provides the link between the first and second generations of Pre-Raphaelites? What, if any, was the relationship between Rossetti's medieval revivalism (and, more generally, his deferential attitude to the Middle Ages) and the truculent progressivism--the iconoclastic "determin[ation] to respect no authority that stood in the way of fresh research in art"--that William Holman Hunt regarded as the driving force of Pre-Raphaelitism (1: 111)? Because these questions are far-reaching as well as sharply focused, they benefit from being briefly placed in the historical and artistic context in which the PRB coalesced in September 1848 and dissolved in November 1853.

I

London in the late eighteen forties and early eighteen fifties was increasingly stocked with manifestations of both progressivism and revivalism. On the one hand, was what Walter Benjamin calls the "economically and technologically based" "constellation of phantasmagorias" that were in the process of transforming mid-nineteenth century cities like London into concretions of modernity: the arcade, the panorama, the plate-glass shop window, and, of course, world exhibitions such as the one in the Crystal Palace in 1851. (3) On the other hand, were the architectural and religious manifestations of an incipiently anti-modern desire to recover and reinstate aspects of the past: the decorated altars and surpliced choirs of the High Church movement, such Gothic-revival churches as A.W.N. Pugin's St. Augustine, Ramsgate (1844-51) and William Butterworth's All Saints', Margaret Street, London (1850-59) and, of course, Sir Charles Barry's new Houses of Parliament (1840-60). In many places and instances, these competing forms and their underlying principles existed parasitically within and upon one another: Pugin had a medieval court beneath the glass and iron dome of the Crystal Palace to display his wares and used concealed iron bars to support the walls of his neo-Gothic buildings.4 Between 1845 and 1855, visitors to the Colosseum (1824-32), a massive pleasure dome designed to display a panorama of London but decorated so as to reflect "'antiquity,'" could ascend to a viewing platform in a steam-powered elevator decked out in the "Tudor style." (5) The "mediaevalisms" of Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini! are painted on a white primer in emulation of early Italian artists, but in oils squeezed from lead tubes and on canvas sealed with "commercially prepared priming."6 In this regard, it is notable that in "Pre-Raphaelitism," William Michael does not insist strongly that Pre-Raphaelitism is "distinct" from "mediaevalism of thought" but focuses instead on the artistic "practice," of the Pre-Raphaelites" in "so far as. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Absurd," Antiquarian, and "Modern-Antique" Medievalism(s): Girlhood of Mary Virgin, the Bride's Prelude, and "Stratton Water"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.