Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Meaning of 'Ophelia'

From Culture Trip:
In 1894, the Tate Gallery received into its collection an oil-on-canvas painted by a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), John Everett Millais. Titled Ophelia, it depicted the aftermath of the Shakespearean heroine’s suicide in Hamlet. A morbid scene but a popular one at the time, under Millais’ brush this painting contained no violence – only an ethereally harrowing tone.
Although Ophelia was an early Pre-Raphaelite work – a work opposing the lauded Renaissance artist Raphael and his influential elegance – it exemplifies much of what the PRB initially stood for: high detail, close attention to nature, abundant colour, and non-simplistic composition, with subjects frequently stemming from the Romantic, the medieval, and the literary. Shakespeare was highly popular in the Victorian age, and the dramatic death of Ophelia, who purposefully let herself drown following her father’s murder at the hands of her lover Hamlet, frequently appeared as the subject of many pieces of art at this time. The PRB did not shy from scenes which were emotionally or morally challenging, with death frequently entering their subject choices. In the Tate collection alone, Ophelia is joined in Pre-Raphaelite scenes of death by Henry Wallis’ The Death of Chatterton, and, sailing to her death, John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott. (Read more.)

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