Friday, March 09, 2018

Arty Farty Friday ~ A Pre-Raphaelite Feminist

Pre-Raphaelite art has been a longtime favourite of mine. I don't know quite why - it's not "cool" it's not surreal, it's not abstract, yet it's not exactly 'real' either. The richness of the images attracts me, the skill of the painters has to be obvious to any with good vision! There are several relevant posts around my archives (see "Pre-Raphaelites" in the label cloud in the sidebar).

 Marie Spartali Stillman by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Marie Spartali Stillman, however, is a name I had not come across before seeing it in the list of birthdays for 10 March (in 1844).

A few snips from an article by by Claire Komacek titled Marie Spartali Stillman – A Pre-Raphaelite Feminist Paints Empowered Women.

Although she is considered to be the greatest Pre-Raphaelite female artist, Marie Spartali Stillman is still virtually unknown and underrepresented in the canon of art history. One of a small number of professional women artists working during the second half of the nineteenth century, her work has largely been overlooked due to the fact that most of it resides in private collections, but moreover that her status as model to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood overshadowed her career as artist. Drawing upon her own Greek heritage and experience modeling for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Spartali painted images of active, empowered women that challenged the male gaze.

Spartali was born into an affluent Greek merchant family in London. Her father, Greek Consul-General to the United Kingdom and patron of the arts, frequently hosted garden parties to which he invited young, up-and-coming artists and writers; this is undoubtedly how Spartali’s exceptional, unique beauty came to the attention of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They regarded her as a ‘stunner,’ ‘a woman so beautiful she ought to be painted, and throughout her lifetime Spartali would come to ‘be most valued for her role as an artist’s model.

Discontent with being purely the recipient of male gazes, Spartali desired to become an artist herself, and in 1864 she begged her father to allow her to study drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown, the eldest member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. She trained with him for six years, during which she continued modeling for her artist-friends, and sat for Brown for several drawings

It doesn't come as much of a surprise to discover that this lady was from a wealthy family. In the 19th century, trying to find news of a female painter from among ordinary folk, working class, poor and underprivileged - and there were a whole lot of them - would be petty darn fruitless. If a young woman of poor or working class background had spectacular looks, the best opportunity she might have had, if living in certain areas, would be to act as a model for painters. If she happened to have an innate artistic talent herself - good luck with that - she could draw and paint to her heart's delight, if she could afford the materials, but nobody outside of family and friends would ever see her work.

For a selection of Marie's paintings do take a look at this website:



Born in London on 10 March 1844. Time of birth unknown, chart set for 12 noon, ascendant and Moon position will not be correct.

Brief notes only:
Natal Sun and Jupiter in Pisces, Moon almost certainly in Sagittarius - Pisces and Sagittarius are, traditionally, both Jupiter-ruled signs. I don't know exactly why, but I've always felt that the Pre-Raphaelites' style was kind of Jupitarian in nature - rich, sumptuous, big. Seeing their paintings in real life may be necessary to get this effect fully, however. I'm lucky enough to have done so, back in Manchester, UK.

Marie was "ahead of her time" in that she managed to shine and become well-appreciated as a painter, in times when women found it nigh on impossible to succeed in the art world, other than as models. It's no surprise to find in her chart 3 planets, Mercury, Neptune, & Saturn in Aquarius, sign of the avant garde. Saturn is in sextile to Uranus in Aries, linking the traditional rulers of Aquarius rather helpfully. While Saturn represents traditionalism and Uranus all that is modern - here we have a female painter painting in broadly traditional style while being herself, whether she realised it or not, on the leading edge of a feminism still to come to full maturity.

The cluster of 3 planets: Pluto, Venus (planet of the arts) and Mars in late Aries (ruled by Mars)& early Taurus (ruled by Venus) adds to the feel that this is the chart of a forward thrusting initiator.

Click on the image of these two paintings by Marie Spartali Stillman for a larger, clearer view.

 The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo, 1889

 Love's Messenger


Wisewebwoman said...

How beautiful. Thank you for this T. So Inspiring.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ She was so good - should be better known!