JANE MORRIS

18 July 2011

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Rossetti]Jane Morris is probably the most anonymous famous model ever.

She was born Jane Burden, but married William Morris and flirted and modelled her way into art history as Jane Morris.  Her “relationships” with the Pre-Raphaelites means that her face graces so many of the worlds art galleries, arty coffee table books, art course work plates, posters, carrier bags and more besides.

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Dante Rossetti]The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were into photographic quality detail and likeness and so Jane Morris is recognisable irrespective of which artist painted her.

For me, she is the face of the Tractarians and the Oxford movement, the face of Pre-Raphalites, the face of the catholic movement in Anglicanism, of High Church, of High Victorian Britishness.

I had posters of her before I knew it was her.  I can see the charm she held over Rossetti — and I can appreciate the resemblance with Elizabeth Siddal and Sarah Cox (Fanny Cornforth)

She certainly has very sculptured features, particularly the “Roman Nose”! She was apparently the epitome of beauty according to the brotherhood.

Personally, I don’t see it quite like that; I see her as a perfect depiction of allegory — the type of artists’ model who would be perfect for representing an ideal, such as “Generosity” or “Chastity” and just about anything else, even “War”.  There is something about Jane and Elizabeth Siddal that makes them seem beautiful in the aesthetic sense, rather than the erotic sense.

For me, and I suspect for most men, Morris is an idealisation, not something to be desired.  More of an archetype really, and that is fascinating!

A mate of mine years ago suggested that Jane Morris was a bit like those strange manly females painted by Michelangelo, the classical nose, the strong limbs, the polished marble complexion. I disagreed because Siddal and Fanny had the amazing red hair, and both, but Jane especially, had the listlessness, the boredom and aloofness of the idealised female, not a bastardised man!

The really fun thing when studying these people and this movement is that there are letters and even photographs available.

[Photograph of Jane Morris] [Photograph of Jane Morris]

This blew me away. Obviously you can compare the paintings with the photographs, but the photographs are of an actual — real — wife and mother, not the painted allegorical or historical figure.

  • If you want to compare paintings and sketches with real photographs of Jane Morris, check out the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website — it’s a great place to start looking into this fascinating movement and era.

Rossetti married Siddal and when she died, Fanny moved in as housekeeper/lover despite everyone’s view of her as a common lass.  They both grew tremendously fat together.  Through both relationships, Rossetti had a long-term “relationship” with Jane Morris, but it was a secretive affair because Morris was Rossetti’s social equal and colleague in the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

If that little paragraph doesn’t whet your appetite for further research and enquiry, then I don’t know what would do the trick!

The whole thing is fascinating, fascinating ideas in fascinating times.  The high church artistic values of spires and stained glass, against the frugality of the stricter protestant faiths.  The strictness of Victorian moral values with the affairs of the people involved in painting them.

All of this is fabulous, dramatic and well documented.  There are many characters, many perpetrators, many artists, but in the end the face that stands out, the face that represents it all is Jane Morris’s. 

Women may not have been equal in terms of votes and inheritance (etc), but it is absolutely clear from Queen Victoria’s time, that women played a massive part in the various artistic, religious, moral and political movements of the time.

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2 Responses to “JANE MORRIS”

  1. logman Says:

    First time to know that Jane Morris was a real girl.The Arab witer Tayeb Salih used the name in his great novel “season of migration to the north”
    logman
    e.m logmansophia@yahoo.co.uk


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