Drowning became a grand, opulent transformation.
Drowning became a grand, opulent transformation.
Today, July 25th, marks the birthday of England’s first Victorian supermodel, Elizabeth Siddal.
Over a century before Twiggy hit swinging London, and 150 years before Tyra Banks began her search for America’s Top Model, English beauty Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal was the new face that launched a thousand ships. She was an artist’s model for a group of cutting-edge painters known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
‘America’s Top Model’ — a reality show which takes beautiful urchins from mundane backgrounds off the streets and somehow transforms them into stunning supermodels – may actually have a lot in common with the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood ( PRB.)
In the mid 19th century a group of young painters decided to defy restrictions, throw caution to the wind and break the ceiling of what they thought had become very boring, regulated and prescription art in England. They were led by the rebel stud Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The PRB left behind stuffy universities to begin their own style. Their new art hearkened back to a more naturalistic pre-industrial time, and resembled Renaissance works popular before the painter Raphael became the accepted standard. (Hence the name Pre-Raphaelite.)
To our post-modern eyes, the PRB paintings might look very staid and classic, but in their own time they were quite shocking. One innovative thing the PRB did was to find their models among common people in the streets. These women were often shop girls or prostitutes. The Brotherhood would transform them into magnificent goddesses.
Elizabeth Siddal was one such model. She was born on July 25, 1829 to working class London parents. In her late teens she took a job in a hat shop in Cranbourne Alley. In 1849 Lizzie was ‘discovered’ by PRB artist Walter Deverall, who was working on a painting to depict Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’.
Deverall needed a model to portray the cross-dressing Viola — in her boy role as Cesario. Elizabeth apparently had the androgynous beauty that was needed for the role.
Lizzie was described as: “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck, greenish-blue eyes, brilliant complexion and a lavish wealth of coppery golden hair.”
As luck would have it, Deverall’s model for the role of Feste the Fool was fellow painter and notorious bad boy Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Here is the entire panel, Gabriel as the court jester and Lizzie on the far left.
When Rossetti and Elizabeth met, sparks flew. Thus began their tumultuous love affair. They became engaged and defied convention by living together for almost ten years. They finally married in 1860.
Elizabeth became Gabriel’s chief muse. Reportedly, he painted over a thousand portraits of her. He likened her to Beatrice Portinari, the muse of 13th century writer Dante Alighieri (author of The Divine Comedy.) Dante was also Gabriel’s namesake and he seemed to have recreated their courtly love affair, starring himself as Dante and Lizzie as Beatrice.
As torrid as their relationship was, Gabriel’s antics and constant affairs with other models apparently made for a not so smooth ride. Plus, Elizabeth suffered from ill health and eventually became addicted to laudanum.
Nonetheless, they were a fascinating couple! The PRB were the revolutionaries of Victorian London and their beautiful models were the ‘it girls’ of the day. Elizabeth was a poet in her own right, and although her poems were never published in her lifetime, I think they are pretty good.
Here is an excerpt, called Dead Love:
Oh never weep for love that’s dead
Since love is seldom true
But changes his fashion from blue to red,
From brightest red to blue,
And love was born to an early death
And is so seldom true.
Perhaps it is a rather revealing version of her relationship with rogue Gabriel…
Elizabeth posed for numerous paintings and eventually began studying art herself, under Gabriel’s tutelage. She produced many sketches and watercolors. Art critic John Ruskin became her patron, and paid her the modest sum of £150 per year for her work. (That is about £12,000 in today’s money. Still, it was a big deal for a woman to have her own income!)
Elizabeth posed for many character portraits, but perhaps her most famous one was Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Here she stars as Shakespeare’s tragic character from Hamlet who committed suicide by throwing herself in a river.
The image is so lifelike, you almost expect to touch her hands or smell the fragrance of her flowers.
In real life, Elizabeth also committed suicide.
She became pregnant in 1861, but the baby, a girl, was stillborn. Elizabeth, who also had a long history of depression, then suffered from post-partum and entered a dangerous darkness. She died of a laudanum overdose on February 11, 1862.
Although coroners deemed her death an accident, reportedly, Lizzie left a suicide note. Gabriel later destroyed it, as he knew killing oneself in Victorian England was both illegal and immoral, and would have brought scandal upon her family.
Here is an excerpt of one of Lizzie’s eerily prophetic poems, called Early Death:
Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears
The life that passes fast;
The gates of heaven will open wide
And take me in at last.
Then sit down meekly at my side
And watch my young life flee;
Then solemn peace of holy death
Come quickly unto thee.
Now here’s where the story takes a really weird twist!
Gabriel, overcome with grief at his wife’s death, buried in her coffin a book of poems he had written to her.
Seven years later, in 1869, Gabriel became obsessed with the idea of publishing those poems. He, along with his agent Charles Howell, applied for an order to have Elizabeth’s coffin exhumed.
Gabriel, a heavy drinker, may have really gone off the rails at this point. Supposedly he was going blind and was no longer able to paint, and therefore looking to write and publish more poetry.
The exhuming of Lizzie’s grave was done (creepily!) in the dead of night, so as not to draw attention. Gabriel was not present, but Charles Howell claimed that Elizabeth, lying in the opened coffin, was still well preserved with her beauty in tact!
Also her long red hair had continued to grow, and therefore, Elizabeth’s corpse retained much of her stunning charm!
(This is how vampire legends got started. Remember, it was Victorian Times, ripe with Gothic ghost stories of the dormant undead, and other wild imaginings.)
To be fair, laudanum is known to be a great preservative, and Lizzie had plenty of it in her body. Also, she was no stranger to alcohol and other formaldehyde-type drugs. She was a “devoted swallower” of Fowler’s Solution, a so-called complexion improver made from diluted arsenic.
Could all these drugs have made for a well preserved Lizzie? There is a folkloric belief that hair and nails can continue to grow after death.
I cannot help but notice another similarity to Shakespeare’s Ophelia. Hamlet — who was Ophelia’s lover — jumped into her grave at her burial, unable to let her go.
Is truth stranger than fiction?
Whatever one makes of their personal lives, the PRB no doubt left their mark in the art world. They produced some of the most stunning, radiant and thought-provoking works ever created.
Happy Birthday Lizzie!
The TV series Desperate Romantics was a fictional account of the PRB. If you want to know more about them (or just be fabulously entertained by Aidan Turner as Gabriel and Amy Manson as Lizzie!) tune into this episode. Running time is about one hour. Hope you like it! 🙂
For the third day of my Quote Challenge I have chosen these words from the Bard. The metaphysical nature of this quote is very, VERY deep. It is one that changed my life.
The line is taken from Hamlet. Prince Hamlet, in deep depression and much mental anxiety, describes his native country of Denmark as a ‘prison’. His friends, college buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, disagree. Hamlet then replies:
“Why, then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good
or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.”
Of course, Prince Hamlet has good reason to see his country as a prison. Hamlet’s uncle Claudius has recently murdered Hamlet’s father, taking over the crown (which should rightfully belong to Hamlet.) His mother Queen Gertrude has married Uncle Claudius in what was then considered an incestuous relationship. Talk about injustice! Oedipus complex! Fratricide, regicide and Hamlet being tormented by the ghost of his father…
No wonder the poor guy is half insane, depressed and contemplating suicide. (The famous soliloquy “To be or not to be” quickly follows.)
But back to the quote. One man’s trash is another’s treasure; the glass is either half empty of half full. However, true wisdom comes in recognizing that there is innately nothing good nor bad in anything, but what we BELIEVE about it makes it so.
If, for example, I have a peanut allergy, then I better not eat peanuts. Unless I want to swell up, break out in hives and possibly die. But if I am a vegan, peanuts might be my life blood. Unless I want a protein deficiency and the myriad of diseases that go with it. I would actually take this idea one step further and say the peanut allergy ITSELF is a result of fear based thinking. The adherence to vegan principle ITSELF is also a result of fear based thinking. “The thinking makes it so.”
We live in a dichotomy (not to mention a propaganda machine) that teaches us to believe in the well defined nature of GOOD and BAD. For example — Life GOOD: Death BAD. Justice GOOD: Crime BAD.
However, death might be good for one who is suffering a disease, or better still, one who recognizes that in the bigger metaphysical picture, there actually IS no death. Regarding crime and justice, who defines it? A lot of stupid laws have been written and a lot of innocent people have been wrongly punished. Conversely, a lot of criminals with great lawyers have committed heinous crimes and gone free.
Take politics. (I realize this is a dangerous limb, and the views expressed are NOT my own.) But let’s just say. Guns GOOD: Enemy BAD. Fetus GOOD: Abortion BAD.
But what if a gun gets into the hand of a child who accidentally shoots himself? Abortion might be a good choice for one who knows she cannot adequately support a child in the current economic system. (Or better still, one who recognizes that in the bigger metaphysical picture, there actually IS no death.)
However, if you are not going to be able to sleep at night without a gun beneath your pillow, then by all means, keep a gun! If having an abortion will cause you emotional anguish for the rest of your life, then by all means, have the baby! Even the Bible itself quotes Jesus as saying ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ Because, the TRUTH is:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
I would like to thank Married With a View for nominating me for this challenge. I love quotes and I think this will be a lot of fun 🙂
Rules for the Quote Challenge:
Thank the person who nominated you.
Post 1-3 quotes a day for 3 consecutive days.
Nominate 3 bloggers to do the same.
My quote for Day 1 is:
I am a huge fan of the Bard and I have always loved this quote. The line is from Hamlet. It is spoken by the character Polonius as advice he gives to he son Laetres just before Laetres leaves for France. (Actually, Polonius is a bit of a wind bag — taken completely in context the speech was possibly meant to be more annoying than profound. Plus Polonius has some dirty dealings of his own, like sending a spy to France to keep an eye on Laetres…) But no matter. They are still great words and they fit well into the sound byte world of today!
“To thine own self be true.” It means do what is right for YOU regardless of what others think. Be yourself. Your cup of tea is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is fine. That is actually necessary. Imagine what a boring world it would be if everyone were homogenized.
“And it must follow, as the night the day; thou canst not then be false to any man.” If you are true to yourself, it will follow that you are honest and authentic with others. People will be able to trust who you are. This has something to do with directness. People who are authentic then give others permission to be themselves as well.
Words of wisdom from Mr. Shakespeare, the master, Bard, swan of Avon, playwright pontificate and keeper of all keys 🙂
For my 3 bloggers I will nominate:
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
No one knows the exact actual date of Shakespeare’s birth. We do, however, know through church records that he was baptized on April 26th, 1564. It was customary back then to baptize babies within three days of their birth. (This was done so they wouldn’t end up in Limbo, which was NOT, btw, a dance — but rather a state of suspension in which one’s soul was not fit for Heaven, yet not bad enough for Hell. It all had to do with that pesky original sin, which could be expunged with baptism.) We also know, through death records, that Shakespeare passed away on April 23rd, 1616 at the ripe old age of 52. (This reportedly following a drinking binge with Ben Johnson and some theater buddies, come down to Stratford for some merry making. Maybe celebrating his birthday!) Imagination and poetic license allow us to say, within reason, that Shakespeare’s birth date and death date both fall on April 23rd.
Therefore, TODAY marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the 452nd anniversary of his birth. Yay Will!
In honor of my all time favorite writer, I would like to submit a compilation of some of his most profound quotes. I mean, he covered everything — birth, death, love, sex, men, women, music, good, evil, humanity itself. It’s worth looking into – maybe even worth considering as part of our own life philosophies. Let me know what you think!
“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.” – Much Ado About Nothing
Ah, yes, pretty maids. Be not bothered by those jack-a-nape rogues you call boyfriends who refuse commitment and wedding rings, all the while drooling over the latest porn posts. Listen to the immortal Bard. ‘Constant to one thing never.’ What did you expect? Instead best get your career in track, use birth control and invest in a good 401 k.
“Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air we wawl and cry. When we are born we cry, that we are come to this great state of fools.” – King Lear
Well, after all now. We know this planet earth is a rather silly place, don’t we? Of course little babies coming in here are gong to be upset. Especially considering a lot of them now are Indigos and Crystal children from the constellation Sirius and such outermost regions. The cradle-grave journey is a short stay, so heed the Bard’s advice and know this is but a state of fools.
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Hamlet
As Abe Lincoln once said, ‘You can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ So you may as well please yourself. They are going to criticize you anyway, so heed this great seed of wisdom from the Shakes and be your own original self at all times.
“Well, if Fortune be a woman, she’s a good wench for this gear.” – The Merchant of Venice
Need we say more? Just don’t mess with any swashbuckling wenches 🙂
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” – Macbeth
And watch out for them wicked witches! They just might make some dire predictions that may or may not come true, depending upon your own ambition.
“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – Macbeth
As I mentioned before, it’s a short stay here on planet earth, begging the immortal question,’What’s the point?’
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet
Everyone knows this. Hasten not to make those moral judgments, ye foolish mortals, for one man’s trash is another’s treasure. If you don’t believe me just check out ebay 🙂 It is the thinking that makes it so.
If music be the food of love…