Here are some more paintings from the second wave Pre-Raphaelite, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. The painting below is taken from the story of Psyche. She had unintentionally aroused the ire of Aphrodite when men, aroused by her beauty, had turned from worshiping the goddess in favor of her. Later on in her story, she becomes Aphrodite’s servant and is sent on a series of impossible tasks, one of which is to venture into Hades. She is one of the relatively few characters in Greek mythology to make it back alive from the place of the dead. Charon was the pilot who ushered the dead across the river Styx and into Hades.
This next painting is a personification, another example of allegorical art.
Here is Venus, another mythological subject…
… and, from Greek mythology, a depiction of Andromeda, the maiden who was rescued by the demigod Perseus from the sea serpent Cetus when she was chained to a rock.
I will end my discussion of this artist with his portrayal (on two panels) of an event from the New Testament: that of the angel appearing to Mary.
It is difficult to see Maria Zambaco as a victim of exploitation when one gets a hint of how headstrong she seems to have been. That combined with her wealth and her skill as an artist push me toward believing that her life may have been more about psychology and morals than it was about sociology and the treatment of women. That she fit in with the trends of the times, however, seems rather obvious to me.
The willful participation of women in a system that limits the roles and portrayals of women becomes more nuanced when it is done to increase their individual power. Or is it really power if it plays to male fantasies? And what about the rest of women who must deal with the fallout of disagreeable male attitudes that have been catered to and encouraged?
This week, I will present a series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones with Maria as the featured model. This particular series is referred to as the Pygmalion cycle. Click on the image to enlarge the pictures of all four paintings.
This is yet another adaptation of a story from The Metamorphoses by Ovid. As is typically the case with Roman mythology, it is based on an earlier tale from Greek mythology. A sculptor falls in love with the statue he has created, and Venus, the goddess of love, brings the sculpture in question to life for him. Maria appears to be the model for each of the characters in these paintings: Pygmalion, Venus, and the statue/woman.
I have thought about how many of my gender may have a good bit of Pygmalion in them. A man may fall in love, not with a woman as she really is, but as he has imagined her. His imaginative fantasies use her as a blank canvas or un-carved block of marble on which he can create a person who doesn’t really exist. The obvious shame of this is that the poor woman must often deal with the fallout of such false expectations, but I see as the greatest shame the fact that a man fails to experience and appreciate the many dimensions or facets that a real woman can give to a relationship. I say this as a married man whose wife of 37 years never ceases to surprise and amaze him.
Next week: another series of paintings featuring Maria.
Perelandra is the second book in the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis. Originally, this was my least favorite in the series, but my appreciation for this work has grown since then.
When I first read this story, I didn’t enjoy the planetary landscape as much as that of Malacandra (Mars), but the author’s description of Perelandra (Venus) was more appealing on my second reading years later. The key was that I had to stop thinking like a scientist and, instead, simply enjoy the fantasy. The entire planet is portrayed as a maritime Garden of Eden, complete with floating islands, dragons, fanciful aquatic beasts, and a newly created Adam and Eve.
Eldil and and an Oyarsa are also involved in the affairs of this planet, but the main plot element is a temptation saga in which Dr. Elwin Ransom and Dr. Weston engage in debate as the agents of God and Satan (the Bent One). Some reviewers have expressed the same criticism I initially had: that the dialogue was tedious and slowed the development of the story. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time I read these passages again, I was more familiar with the writings of Plato and John Milton, and I could recognize these exchanges as a brilliant adaptation from Platonic dialogues and Paradise Lost. Rather than a weak link in the chain, this book stands on its own strength.