Thursday, September 11, 2008

John Everett Millais' Mariana

Millais Pictures, Images and Photos
For myself, one of the most enduring appeals of Pre-Raphaelite art is its strong relationship to romantic literature. Millais' 1851 work, Mariana, is a great example of this. The painting is based on a poem of the same title by Tennyson that in turn was inspired by Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure. In Measure for Measure, the character Mariana is abandoned by her fiance, Angelo, when her dowry is lost in a shipwreck.

Millais' illustration of Mariana at the window reminds me of other stories, such as that of Penelope. Like Penelope, Mariana is engaged in needlework. Autumn leaves have blown in through the window and are scattered about the room--on the floor as well as on her needlework project, which the gallery description at the Tate suggests represents "the burden of her yearning as time passes." She is staring at a stained-glass image of the annunciation, which according to Tim Barringer was seen "as a quasi-sexual event" for both Millais and Rossetti in their paintings (42-43). There definitely is an undercurrent of frustration and longing in the painting.

Millais originally exhibited the painting along with several lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, 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!'

Tomorrow: another Pre-Raphaelite vision of Mariana.

image courtesy Tate Gallery
Source consulted: Tim Barringer. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Everyman Art Library, 1998

16 comments:

steviewren said...

The lighting in this painting is wonderful. It reminds me of a Vermeer in its composition. I like the way the artist captured that moment upon standing when you automatically arch your achy back.

skatej said...

Ah! you mentioned my love: Tennyson! I fell in love with him in my hich school lit class when I read Crossing The Bar. I researched him a bit online and found a poem entitled "Kate" that was published in his "Juvenalia." Look it up. It was frightening how the poem described a woman named Kate with characteristics so similar to myself! Hopefully the last two lines do not foretell anything dire.

skatej said...

Oh yes, and I love Millais. The painting is beautiful!

acornmoon said...

Hi Margaret,

I heard an article on the BBC which you may find interesting-

An art historian says he has found that painters who made their money specialising in portraits of famous people chose to redress the balance of power by reproducing their own facial characteristics within those of their powerful sitters. The artist Simon Abrahams explains why he calls the practice 'face fusion', and says it is evident as early as the 1600s in the work of Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver.

I think that there is a much simpler explanation and that it is an unconscious phenomenon. I think that the brain makes an observation and then adds to that the information already learned. The artist looks at the shape of an eye, or nose and then adds to that remembered facts about features. As we all know our own face the best we naturally make faces similar to our own.

This is very obvious in children's book illustration where the illustrator invents faces. Look at Gennady Spirin or Angela Barret, the characters they invent look like their creators.

I think that you can spot facial characteristics in Millais subjects also. Certainly the Burne Jones ladies all look like they are genetically linked.

Sorry for the ramble!

Margaret said...

Don't be sorry, acornmoon! That was really interesting! I like your simple explanation. It makes a lot of sense, although I have a theory of my own!

I think that the Pre-Raphaelites also tended to look for models that looked like them. For example, Waterhouse used his own family to pose for his paintings, as did Burne Jones and Millais. And Rossetti most definitely had a "type" he went in for. I think most of us tend to have faces that we are drawn toward, and they usually look like our own in some way. They've proven numerous times that we tend to be attracted to people that share our own facial characteristics, so I think that's a possibility as well: maybe all of Rossetti's models actually DID look like him. I actually think there is a striking resemblance between Jane Burden's face and Rossetti's own--even in photographs.

Margaret said...

Oh, and I agree with you, Steviewren, Mariana definitely has a Vermeer-like quality!

Kate--Isn't Tennyson's poetry irresistable? I love the way he transports you into faraway lands so easiliy with his poetry. Great stuff!

willow said...

I have always loved this painting. The weariness is so apparent in her aching back. I think we all can relate to it. And oh, the leaves that have blown in and onto everything! Perfect fall post, Margaret.

A World Away said...

I adore this painting. The royal blue velour is so rich. The setting with the stain glass windows and the leaves fluttering in. Nobody mentioned the cute little mouse in the foreground. I find the sash/belt on Mariana to very sensous the way it is draped over the hips.

blackbird said...

Hi Margaret- I'm here from the Victoria forum. I love your blog and check in regularly.

In this painting, I don't see any open windows. I'm wondering if she has collected some leaves to give her inspiration and color suggestions for her needlework. The ones that she's done with have been cast to the floor. It looks as if her work is rolled up to the side of the table.

I do wish that she would move and then I would know for sure.

Grace said...

Really interesting discussion about the similar facial features!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This is one of my favorites. Having sat at a needlework frame like this one, I've always loved her tired stretch. The curve of her body as she presses her hands against her back is so beautiful, and true.

Margaret said...

Thank you everyone for stopping by! I love the way you guys always notice things in the painting that I've totally overlooked (like the mouse).

I do love her pose. Her "tired stretch" as Pamela calls it, is so natural!

Thorsprincess said...

Thank you for this post and the wonderful picture. This was my favorite print--and the first I ever bought--more than 35 years ago. It was damaged and thrown out, although I had hung it across from a Vermeer (the one with the fabulous blues and the young, pregnant wife holding a letter) for many years. I loved the two ladies in domestic settings in blues. Unfortunately, I have tried unsuccessfuly for many years to replace that damaged Millais print. Thank you for writing about it. I miss this painting every day!

Melanie said...

Poor Mariana not having an angel come to announce a change in her life. I do love the colours.

Margaret said...

--Mom, I'm so sorry you haven't been able to replace that painting--I didn't even know it was gone!

--Melanie, the colours are brilliant, arent' they?

Donjah said...

I love and adore this painting! Does anyone know where I can buy a poster Mariana?

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