100 Days of Art History Jinjins



This is a painting of the sorceress Vivien (aka the Lady of the Lake, sometimes called Nimue or Niniane), who seduced Merlin, learned all his magical secrets, then sealed him in an enchanted sleep. (She also gave Arthur his legendary sword Excalibur, but I think that's less relevant to this particular painting.)

This fits in with other Pre-Raphaelite paintings of hot but dangerous enchantresses like Circe, Morgan Le Fay, and Medea. The model for this painting was Keomi Grey, Frederick Sandys's lover. She also seems to have posed for his paintings of Morgan Le Fay and Medea. In all of these, I see an awe and thrilled fear of her. Keomi Grey was of Romani descent, and I wonder if stereotypes of gypsies influenced Sandys's portrayals of her as a magical femme fatale. I learned more about her through this article on the website The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.

I'm drawn to this because she is portrayed as beautiful and powerful, which for better or worse are the aspiratonal traits that have been instilled in me as a woman growing up in this time and place. At the same time I recognize that her face is blank and she's not doing anything other than allowing herself to be admired. She doesn't have much interiority.

Keomi Grey had a strong jawline that ended up in my copy even though I do not have the same bone structure. I think at this stage I still thought of a face as the details of the eyes, nose, and mouth rather than taking into account the overall shape of the skull that they're placed in, which is arguably way more important to getting a likeness.

Reference image is from Wikipedia. It is now in the Manchester Art Gallery

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