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Florence Welch – Perfect Model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Illustration by @feegreening, Source: Instagram.

Art State of Mind

Florence Welch – Perfect Model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

We all know Florence Welch, the leader of indie-rock band Florence+the machine. And if you don’t, I suggest you find her cosmic music right now and open a whole new amazing world! Florence herself seems to descend to us directly from a painting. We can find her art-twins on paintings from many periods. But mostly Florence Welch looks like she could easily have been a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood muse!

Florence is famous not only for her fabulous music. She is a poet, a composer, and much more, just like the Pre-Raphaelites! Her house, full of paintings, mysterious patterns, books and outlandish trinkets, looks like the refuge of a romantic poetess. Likewise, her songs are magical canvases of love and darkness. Let us open this world of beauty for you today with the most look-a-like examples!

John William Waterhouse, Psyche Entering Cupid’s Garden, 1903, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Source: Wikimedia Commons

But first – who are these Pre-Raphaelite brothers?

In the middle of the 19th century, the three mysterious letters started to appear on some English artworks: P.R.B. It was the Pre-Raphaelite circle. These young masters strongly disagreed with the conservative views of Victorian England. So they turned to biblical stories, Dante and Keats, English knightly ballads, and ancient Greek myths. As a result, the brotherhood created their own unique world.

The most prominent members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement were the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the painters John Everett Millais, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, John William Waterhouse. The name “Pre-Raphaelites” was chosen to denote a spiritual kinship with the artists of the early Renaissance. These artists, “before Raphael” and Michelangelo, included Perugino, Fra Angelico and Giovanni Bellini. In the brothers’ opinion, Raphael was a pagan, who spoiled the sincere and pure in art. Therefore, Florence Welch, who even has a song named Pure Feeling, seems like a perfect reflection of the Pre-Raphaelite ideals.

Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pia de’ Tolomei, 1868, Spencer Museum of Art, Source: Wikipedia.

The evidence: the Pre-Raphaelites would have loved Florence Welch

John Everett Millais 1829-1896

Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, Tate Britain, Source: Wikimedia Commons;
Florence at the Osheaga festival, 2012, Source: florenceandthemachine.pl

John Everett Millais was one of the founders of the brotherhood. Mariana is one of his paintings based on a literary subject. This lady is the heroine of Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure. Mariana is depicted in an uncomfortable position, conveying her fatigue from the long work on embroidery and the long wait for her fiancé Angelo. This work certainly reflects the artist’s desire for ultimate realism.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851, Tate Britain, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ophelia is Millais’s most famous work. The model for the image of Shakespeare’s heroine was Elizabeth Siddal – the future wife of Dante Rossetti. Ophelia was the first of many paintings for which Elizabeth posed. For this work, she was immersed in a bath. Underneath, lamps heated the water. Elizabeth did not dare to interrupt the artist when the lamps went out. As a result, she caught a severe cold. The doctor prescribed her opium, which subsequently caused her premature death. This work was successfully exhibited in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Furthermore, it has become a personification of the Pre-Raphaelites’ art.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1864–1870, Tate Britain, Source: Wikipedia

The life and work of Rossetti was greatly influenced by his marriage to Elizabeth Siddal, and her early death. Beata Beatrix is dedicated to her. Beatrix-Elizabeth died from an opium overdose. Due to this, the bird in the picture, the Herald of Death, carries a poppy, an opium flower.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lady Lilith, 1872–73, Delaware Art Museum, Source: Wikipedia.

Rosetti often worked simultaneously as an artist and a poet. While creating paintings, he wrote accompanying poems. The legend of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, inspired Rosetti to create the poem Soul’s Beauty. In addition, he inscribed it on the frame of the Lady Lilith painting!

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Venus Verticordia, 1864–1868, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Source: Wikipedia;
Florence by Vincent Haycock, Source: Instagram.

Here Venus appears as a fatal woman, whose sensual beauty is bewitching male destinies. Similarly, we can see Florence being just as enchanting all over the world!

John William Waterhouse definitely saw Florence in his dreams

John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896, Manchester Art Gallery, Source: Wikimedia Commons;
Florence photographed by Tom Beard, Source: Instagram.

Hylas is a character of ancient Greek mythology. The handsome Hylas was a favorite of Hercules, a squire, and a companion of the Argonauts. During the Argonauts’ long way home, the ship docked at the Karabiga Bay. And unsurprisingly, the nymphs abducted Hylas because of his incredible beauty. Can we really blame them?

Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
John William Waterhouse, “I am half sick of shadows,” said the Lady of Shalott, 1915, Art Gallery of Ontario, Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1832, an English poet Alfred Tennyson published a poem Lady of Shallot about a damned girl living in a tower that she was forbidden to leave. So only in a huge mirror could she sometimes see what existed outside her dungeon. Once a shadow of the knight Lancelot flashed through it. So the girl, as if enchanted, decided to look at him in real life. But the lady’s journey to Camelot was not successful. Sadly, she reached it’s shores already dead.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, Tate Britain, Source: Wikipedia;
Florence photographed by Tom Beard, 2009, Source: florenceandthemachinefanclub.com.

Here the lady of Shallot is pictured during her journey to Camelot. We can see candles and a crucifix in the boat. The lady seems to look at them with despair. Why? Because candles symbolize life, and two of them are already blown out.

Need more convincing?

William Holman Hunt, Amaryllis (The Shepherdess), 1884, Private Collection, Source: Wikipedia.

William Hunt believed that the revival of art should be accompanied by a return to lost religious and moral ideals. As a result of his expressed preaching, friends called him “The Great Priest of the Pre-Raphaelites.”

Amaryllis creates an idyllic scene. But there is so much sadness hidden in it. Many Greek poets wrote about Amaryllis, a beautiful shepherdess. A shepherd boy calls for her, describing his longing for her love. He then sings about the cruelty of Eros, the god of love. And finally, he threatens that he will rush to be eaten by the wolves! But his suffering leaves Amaryllis indifferent. Oh, the cruel world!

Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
John William Waterhouse, A Song of Springtime, 1913, Private Collection, Source: Wikimedia Commons;
Florence at Letters Live 2019 photographed by Greg Williams, Source: livejournal.
Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Aurelia (Fazio’s Mistress), 1863, Tate, Source: artuk.
John William Waterhouse, Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, 1891, Gallery Oldham, Source: Wikipedia.

In addition, Florence herself describes her style as:

“Ophelia meets the Lady of Shalott.”

As you can see from our examples, both heroines inspired the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, whose muse and model Florence Welch could easily have been if she had lived 150 years ago.

Want to know more about the P.R.B?

Find out more about how Dante Gabriel Rossetti represented women!

Or plan your trip to Delaware Art Museum, home to many Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

And I advise you turn on Florence+the machine’s album while doing that!

All Florence Welch’s images are the courtesy of her Instagram page if not stated otherwise.

A Russian historian herself, Elizaveta has a soft spot for Art (and not only the native one). Based in Moscow and trying to get as many people as possible to become Art lovers in every city she goes to.


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