If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:3:48

The Pre-Raphaelites and mid-Victorian art

Video transcript

she stands against the window looking out but really looking in in a terribly got a purple nightgown out the window we can see the City of London we can see the Thames river we're looking at John Rodham Spencer Stanhope's thoughts of the past if we were a Victorian looking at this painting we would immediately recognize that she was a prostitute and that she's thinking about her past life as a virtuous woman likely from the countryside who had come to the city and who had fallen in Victorian terms a fallen woman a prostitute fallen women were the subject of paintings and literature during this period a kind of social problem for artists and writers to deal with so she's a sympathetic figure to a large extent and we as a middle-class public were expected to grapple with her predicament exactly and who was at fault and what could be done about it you can see how closely the artists tie is her problem to the problem of the city and the growth of the city well let's look out that window this bustling port on the Thames on the river that bisects London I can almost hear men yelling to each other across those boats and in the foreground we see what looks like hay on a barge and that hay of course would have been brought to the city from the country in order to feed the horses and it does make a kind of analogy to this woman who has become a kind of commodity something that is bought and sold apparently this part of the Thames was an area that was well known for prostitution so all of this would have been recognisable to a victorian viewer another thing we can immediately notice just the fact that this is painted very much in a pre-raphaelite style we have those intense colors that are really saturated like this purple and the greens and the Reds and showing a female figure with long red hair is also very pre-raphaelite one of the things the pre-raphaelites are so known for is to imbue almost everything with a kind of secondary meaning with the kind of symbolism they were looking back at the great paintings at the very beginning of the Renaissance perhaps for instance the Arnolfini wedding portrait which is in the National Gallery now and so when you look at that red hair is that secondary reference to the Renaissance tradition of representing Mary Magdalene with long red hair and of course the tradition of her being a prostitute but there there's a sense of redemption and here I think that's an open question we're not sure what her future holds she's thinking about her past she's thinking about what's happened to her and perhaps her family in the countryside her lost childhood her lost innocence as you said all of that is also indicated by the accessories in this room in the lower left corner of the painting and I see a potted plant maybe two and they're a little bit too low so that plants have been stretching up to get back to the Sun they are dry they're not tended they may die and their leaves are turning yellow perhaps were sunk in the lower right corner of the painting you can see though those violets there's purple and white which are linked directly to the colors that the woman wears and they've been discarded and they will now wilt and die and if you look at the Arnolfini wedding everything in that painting speaks about the wealth of the couple that's represented but here we have furniture that's chipped and worn even her jewelry on the table looks cheap and tawdry other details in the room that tell us about her life are a little bit hard to see perhaps in the foreground on the left we see a man's walking stick and glove so this painting in many ways is a wonderful window into the moral preoccupations of Victorian life in the city at this time you