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Defying the Pre-Raphaelites: The Lion in Loves Shadow

Eli Klein PHI 360 Section SS June 26, 2013

Piercing, powerful eyes. A mane of red hair. A fiery, strong expression. This description could easily fit a lion in the wild, but for our purposes, it describes a woman tired of her captivity. This captivity includes an onyx background which sets off the stunning figure of the irascible lady herself biting the head off a forget-me-not. Her crimson waves contrast with the white pearls adorning her wrist and the cream roses on her head, ornaments more akin to restraints than accessories. All of these elements add up to my favorite Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, Loves Shadow, by Anthony Frederick Sandys, a painting of a woman with a story and a clear defiance behind her cerulean eyes. This defiance is not just a quality apparent in the lady, but the painting itself. First, to understand the Pre-Raphaelites and Loves Shadows departure from them is to understand excess. A typical master work of the style includes lush backgrounds filled with flora, fauna, drapery, dramatic landscapes and fantastical scenes of a medieval or mythological bent. Not Loves Shadow. The image is surprisingly spartan and dark when it comes to what occurs behind our red haired heroine. This technique of excluding interference is a smart move for Frederick Sandys; he recognizes which parts of a scene sparked an emotional response and which parts, noticed later, are irrelevant or distracting (Dunne, W4LA). In eliminating distractions from the woman and keeping the background bare and black, he creates a greater emotional response in me to her face, her primal passion, in essence, her roar. That essence is what first drew me to the painting when I was thirteen years old, what overtook me and left me breathless. This immediate love I had was caused by the inviting sense that Frederick Sandys had blurred representational and non-representational ideas in a way the lions share of Pre-Raphaelite artists shunned. To be clear, these artists envision women via their paintings as a double representational figure: they are representational of real people, of course, but they are also representational of womans place in this style of art. Pre-Raphaelite females have very few variations, they were beautiful but static; and their function lies ultimately in the colour harmony created by their hair and dresses (G. Pieri, 2001). Frederick Sandys turns this time old tradition of women as decoration on its head. He gives the woman in the painting a nonrepresentational meaning by gifting her countenance with sheer will and power, but keeps these intense feelings ambiguous enough that I could ascribe countless meanings to her face. In short,

Frederick Sandys lets her face be the canvas upon which you can create your own meaning. Consequently, he gives a usually representational figure non-representational value, and in blurring those lines, allows viewers like me to look past these labels to my own warm inner sensorium of symbols (Dunne, W4LB). These inner symbols are what create the virtual space Frederick Sandys paints for each respective viewer, and what makes me feel so intrinsically connected to the treasure. The amalgamation of figures, gestures, attitudes, atmosphere, tone, pace (Dunne, W4LB) within the work make for an interaction between the painting and the viewer that is truly unique for a Pre-Raphaelite composition. Being a fan of the style for a decade, I notice that most of the pictures in my Pre-Raphaelite art book evoke feelings in me of relaxation, awe, and dreamy moods, caused by the languid limbs and satisfied eyes of the often scarlet haired women depicted. In short, if these women are lionesses, then our flower devouring friend is a lion. Loves Shadow jumps off the page with its sharpness, darkness, and singular focus, beckoning to me with the main figures determination, anger, lust. The image makes me feel devilish vexation at individuals who forgot me long ago, individuals I either feel umbrage toward or still hunger for desperately depending on my mood. Similarly, the emotional path I traverse when looking upon Loves Shadow is charged with fury and longing, but more importantly, with empowerment. The light of the female figure in the darkness gives me hope that although we may get caught up in an atmosphere of storminess and sensuality, the true pleasure is in simply being able to witness and experience emotions that strong, just as our crimson haired center subject does. The creation of Loves Shadow threw a wrench in the Pre-Raphaelite formula in every way possible through interference, representational forms, virtual space, and the inner symbols it evokes. By putting a passionate woman on display for the world at a time when Pre-Raphaelite paintings were only wont to produce passive portrayals of females, Frederick Sandys defied convention. You could also say he mixed it up, thought outside the box, or, as I like to say, he released a lion among a bunch of lambs.

References Dunne, T (2013). PHI 360. Week Four, Lecture A,B. Pieri, G (2001). D'Annunzio and Alma-Tadema: between pre-raphaelitism and aestheticism. The Modern Language Review, 96.2, 361. Retrieved from ASORT&inPS=true&prodId=AONE&userGroupName=lom_lansingcc&tabID=T002&sea rchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedS earchForm&currentPosition=2&contentSet=GALE%7CA77096723&&docId=GALE|A7 7096723&docType=GALE&role=

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