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Autor: anton 02 April 2011
Words: 1420 | Pages: 6
The work "Lady of Shalott" illustrated by William Holman Hunt illustrates the poem of the same title by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The painting was created around 1889 Ð’â€“ 1902 in England. He depicts the moment when the Lady of Shalott, doomed to weave tapestries from mirror reflections, glances out of the window to gaze directly at the gallant Sir Lancelot. The mirror cracks. Chaos and confusion overtake her sheltered existence and her work unravels.
Hunt in particular embraced themes of high moral purpose. He was also concerned with rendering his image in a highly finished, detailed style. The complexity of his richly painted composition reflects contemporary fascination with intricate pattern, decorative beauty, and the energy of swirling line. Hunt explained that he wanted to sum up the whole poem in a single image, and that the entrapment by the threads suggested her "weird fate". The scene fascinated Hunt, who returned to the composition at points throughout his life, finally painting a large-scale version shortly before his death. He required assistants, as he was too frail to complete it himself. This deeply conceived evocation of the Lady, ensnared within the perfect rounds of her woven reality, is an apt illustration of the mythology of the weaving arts. Christine Poulson in her essay "Death and the Maiden: The Lady of Shalott and the Pre-Raphaelites" explains that unlike Tennyson, who forgave the Lady for her rebellion, and showed her in a sympathetic, tragic and even noble light, Hunt saw her action as a "dereliction of duty" for which he held her culpable (182). Hunt used his illustrations of the Lady of Shalott as a vehicle in order to convey this disdain to the world and warn it of the consequences of artistic irresponsibility. While Tennyson saw the Lady's plight as representative of the struggles of artists in industrial societies or sexually repressed women, Hunt's vision saw the Lady in a completely different light. He believed that the poem was a parable that illustrated the failure of the human soul towards its accepted responsibility, and more specifically, the failure of the artist towards his or her responsibility. She is "bound to represent faithfully the workings of high purpose of King Arthur's rule" but "not as one who in mixing with the world is tempted by egoistic weakness." She must "sit alone," and this seclusion allows her to "see life with a mind supreme and elevated in judgment." However, when she sees Lancelot riding past her window, earthly love and passion overtake her and she rebels against her task and thereby "casts aside her duty to her spiritual self" (Hunt 401-2).
Hunt paints with exceedingly rich and brilliant colors which have a dramatic effect, but they do not necessarily coincide with the goals of his landscape paintings; that is, to convey the truth of nature through exacting color and attention to minute details. In this painting, the reflection of the outside world in the mirror reveals a landscape, which is hardly realistic. The trees, grass and figures are painted only in yellows, grays and blues.
Hunt also departs from his former interest in portraying realistic scenes with relevant typology and symbolism that emphasizes moral themes. The circular frames on either side of the mirror feature images from scripture and mythology. The scene on the left represents the Madonna and Child and the scene on the right represents Hercules in the garden of Hesperides. Aside from these friezes with figures in rigid poses, the rest of the painting is marked by an abundance of movement and activity. Even the two birds above the right foreground are painted in mid-flight. The figures in this painting, especially Hercules and the Lady herself, are strong, sculpted robust forms, typical of Greek Classical sculpture. The Lady is placed in a chaotic scene of swirling yarn, which she appears to be tangled up in. Perhaps one of her most striking features is her explosion of wavy, windblown hair. This sense of chaos extends to the top of the painting where angelic bodies are positioned randomly; there is no symmetry or formality in the compositions. It is unclear as to whether the figures at the top of the painting refer to the Christian tradition or to mythology. In addition to employing contradictory motifs and symbols, the objects and details of the painting are drawn from a variety of sources: the samovar or oil lamp in the bottom right corner, the sandals in the foreground, and the floor tiles with exotic animal designs.
The reason why I picked this painting was that even before I saw the painting, I already began to feel cold from the Lady and ready to look down upon her due to its very technique. The entire painting is composed in painstakingly detailed brush strokes and hard lines, creating a static effect that highlights the sense of chaos in the subject matter and contrasts it to the previous order that reigned before. It also creates a barrier between the audience and the Lady, preventing them from ever fully sympathizing with her; this distance is only emphasized by a lack of eye contact (Poulson 18). The lighting is also significant; the Lady's torso should be the lightest spot in the picture (Hunt 402-3), but Hunt purposely violates principles and only illuminates her feet. This, coupled with the chambers comparative darkness to the outside world and the Lady's shadowed outline, symbolizes a fall from grace (Rodgers 51).
The very position and appearance of the Lady contribute towards Hunt's message as well. Her posture is defiant and reckless, yet at the same time intensely graceful and reminiscent of a dancer's arabesque, a reminder of both the former peace and tranquility of her world and the sense of deliberate transgression it takes to move away from that and destroy it. Her position in the middle of the loom is also very telling. It must have great significance, for it is one of the details of the painting that actually directly contradicts the text of Tennyson's poem. Even the positioning of the threads themselves is significant: they trap and entangle the Lady, forcing her to fight against them and showing her strength and power and thereby demonstrating that she acts willfully and is not a victim of her situation. The threads also tie her to the figure of Lancelot, with whom she has just established a physical and emotional connection and who is the true cause of all the destruction in the room. But even though she is connected to Lancelot, his positioning in the picture emphasizes how hopeless and futile this thin, stringy link actually is; he is next to her, but the line of the arches draws a barrier between the two, representing how they can never actually be together. The threads also parallel the billowing strands of the Lady's hair, enhancing the sense of disorder in the room.
In conclusion, the way this painting is different from my first choice is that I wanted to do something that I didn't know anything about. The first paper, which I did on pysanky, was something that I already knew a lot about and felt that is was an easy paper to do. This time however, I wanted to do something a little more challenging. That is why I went over to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford to find a painting that would catch my eye and also be a little easy to write about. At first, I thought that this was just going to be a painstakingly process, but when I actually went through with it I learned that it was very interesting. Also I didn't notice that artwork, when looked up close, can actually be very entertaining and interesting. So overall this was an extremely enlightening experience for myself. I am very glad that I had a chance to take this class and be able to see artwork through a different perspective.
Works Cited Page
Holman-Hunt, William. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2nd ed. New York: E.P Dutton and Co., 1914.
Poulson, Christine. "Death and the Maiden: The Lady of Shalott and the Pre-Raphaelites." Reframing the Pre-Raphaelites: Historical and Theoretical Essays. Ed. Ellen Harding. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1996.
Rodgers, Timothy R. "The Development of William Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott." Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and Its Contexts. Exhibition Catalog. Providence, RI: Brown University, 1985. 50-60.
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