Happy Holidays!

A Cradle Song - William Blake

Sweet dreams, form a shade,
O’er my lovely infant’s head;
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams.

Sweet sleep, with soft down.
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep, Angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child.

Sweet smiles, in the night,
Hover over my delight;
Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes.
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child,
All creation slept and smil’d;
Sleep sleep, happy sleep,
While o’er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me,

Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee, on me, on all;
Who became an infant small.
Infant smiles are His own smiles;
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

William Blake’s words seem especially apropos for me this holiday season. My daughter is over a year old now, and I feel very lucky to be able to observe her divine little smiles!

The past few weeks have flown by at such a crazy pace that it’s hard to believe that Christmas is almost here. I am looking forward to taking the next few days to enjoy celebrating the holidays with my family. I hope everyone is enjoying this festive season of the year. Best wishes to all!

Image: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1650

Rare Millais Sketches Found in Led Zeppelin Record Sleeves

Former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is one of the world’s best known collectors of Pre-Raphaelite art. But he nearly lost a handsome stash of sketches by John Everett Millais as the result of what appears to be an auction house mix-up. 


Apparently, four drawings by Millais were found tucked inside Led Zeppelin records that were due to be put up for auction. Interestingly, the records were actually owned by Rick Hobbs, who had worked for the band for a number of years. Originally, the auction house had believed that the sketches were a gift from Page to Hobbs, but the auction house was uncertain enough to withhold the items from the auction. 

Fortunately for art fans, the sketches have been well-preserved within the LP covers, and they are undamaged. Millais made the drawings in 1843 when he was just 14 years old and a student at the Royal Acadamy. Two of the sketches were inspired by the poetry of Robert Burns. One depicts a scene in Venice were a gondolier is singing to a lady from beneath a window, accompanied by a verse from Farewell Thou Stream “The music of thy voice I heard/Nor wist while it enslav’d me!/I saw thine eyes, yet nothing fear’d/Til fears no more had sav’d me!

Amazing that the sketches remained hidden in those LP covers all these years!

Tennyson and the Allure of the Medieval

Lord Alfred Tennyson composed some of the most famous lines in English poetry. Although he succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate, his work has never gained the respect lavished on his predecessor, but his lonstanding popularity is unquestionable. I remember professors in University laughed at the idea of studying Tennyson. He was viewed as something of a literary joke, akin to Thomas Kinkade in the art world.

Tennyson’s poetry had the ability of giving life to old narratives, particularly when it came to Arthurian literature. The Pre Raphaelites, who were drawn to this subject matter, often relied more heavily on Tennyson’s interpretation of Medieval texts than they did on the original source material. This is particularly evident in “Mariana,” “The Lady of Shallot,” “Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere” and “Morte D’Arthur”–all of which were painted by Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Since I didn’t post a copy of Tennyson’s lovely poem, Mariana, the other day, I thought this would be an appropriate time to do so!

Mariana

WITH blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange: 5
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said; 10
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

Her tears fell with the dews at even;
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
She could not look on the sweet heaven, 15
Either at morn or eventide.
After the flitting of the bats,
When thickest dark did trance the sky,
She drew her casement-curtain by,
And glanced athwart the glooming flats. 20
She only said, ‘The night is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

Upon the middle of the night, 25
Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
The cock sung out an hour ere light:
From the dark fen the oxen’s low
Came to her: without hope of change,
In sleep she seem’d to walk forlorn, 30
Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.
She only said, ‘The day is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary, 35
I would that I were dead!’

About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken’d waters slept,
And o’er it many, round and small,
The cluster’d marish-mosses crept. 40
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarlèd bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary, 45
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

And ever when the moon was low,
And the shrill winds were up and away, 50
In the white curtain, to and fro,
She saw the gusty shadow sway.
But when the moon was very low,
And wild winds bound within their cell,
The shadow of the poplar fell 55
Upon her bed, across her brow.
She only said, ‘The night is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’ 60

All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak’d;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,
Or from the crevice peer’d about. 65
Old faces glimmer’d thro’ the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices call’d her from without.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said; 70
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,’
I would that I were dead!’

The sparrow’s chirrup on the roof,
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof 75
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower. 80
Then, said she, ‘I am very dreary,
He will not come,’ she said;
She wept, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
O God, that I were dead!’

Mariana, by Valentine Cameron Prinsep

Mariana Valentine Cameron Prinsep Pictures, Images and Photos
Valentine Cameron Prinsep’s 1888 painting of Mariana borrows much from Millais’ version. Both paintings feature Mariana gazing out the window of her “moated grange.” Prinseps’ version is decidedly cheerier, and unlike Millais’ autumnal painting featuring a backdrop of dying leaves, Prinseps’ is set in spring, with tulips in abundance. The painting was originally exhibited in 1888 as part of a collection of twenty-one paintings entitled “Shakespeare’s Heroines.”

Valentine Cameron Prinsep is a lesser-known painter of the Pre-Raphaelite school, but his connections are fairly impressive! He was born in Calcutta, India in 1838, into a rather well-known family. His aunt was the pre-eminent photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, grandmother of Virginia Woolf (do you ever get the feeling that every person you read about is somehow related?). Valentine was good friends with Millais, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones, and his artwork definitely shows his friends’ influence. During his life he wrote several books and plays, but he is best remembered for his artwork.

Source consulted: Shakespeare Online (The English Department at Emory University is responsible for this great resource–I highly recommend it!).

John Everett Millais’ Mariana

Millais Pictures, Images and Photos
For myself, one of the most enduring appeals of Pre-Raphaelite art is its strong relationship to romantic literature. Millais’ 1851 work, Mariana, is a great example of this. The painting is based on a poem of the same title by Tennyson that in turn was inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure. In Measure for Measure, the character Mariana is abandoned by her fiance, Angelo, when her dowry is lost in a shipwreck.

Millais’ illustration of Mariana at the window reminds me of other stories, such as that of Penelope. Like Penelope, Mariana is engaged in needlework. Autumn leaves have blown in through the window and are scattered about the room–on the floor as well as on her needlework project, which the gallery description at the Tate suggests represents “the burden of her yearning as time passes.” She is staring at a stained-glass image of the annunciation, which according to Tim Barringer was seen “as a quasi-sexual event” for both Millais and Rossetti in their paintings (42-43). There definitely is an undercurrent of frustration and longing in the painting.

Millais originally exhibited the painting along with several lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Mariana:

She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

Tomorrow: another Pre-Raphaelite vision of Mariana.

image courtesy Tate Gallery
Source consulted: Tim Barringer. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Everyman Art Library, 1998