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The Pre-Raphaelites and mid-Victorian art

Video transcript

we now live in a culture where the new is sought-after where the new is something that we want within Victorian culture the new was something that was not always trusted reskin referred to all the new furnishings in the paintings that we're looking at with him home and hunts awakening conscience as having a fatal newness the newness of the piano the newness of the table the newness of the rug all of this was meant to suggest a kind of falseness actually and it's a perfect example of the concerns of Victorian culture in this fabulous pre-raphaelite image so we're looking at a kept woman and we see her with her lover we're in a space that is her apartment filled with brand-new furniture and new wallpaper and prints on the wall he's bought for her yeah in order to create a penitent place that he can escape to she's probably of lowly origin I mean this is all standard narrative that Victorians knew and that had been repeated over and over again of a girl who came from the countryside and became a fallen woman or a kept woman in the city whose compromised by a class above her she's been sitting on the lap of her lover who's been playing the piano but unbeknownst to him he plays a song that reminds her of her childhood and at that moment she remembers her past innocence and experiences of spiritual awakening an awakening of her conscience so she is a subject that we see often in Victorian painting she's a fallen woman but at a moment of redemption look at the way that hunt the artist has organised the painting we're looking at her and we're looking at her ensconced in all of this luxury of the home that he's created for her but this artificial place that's not real where nothing is worn where nothing is used where nothing has been transformed by the life of a real family but she's facing almost towards us and we can see her reflection in the mirror and back of her and we can see that she's looking towards the outside and so here nature and light take on the role of the spiritual take on the role the morale that she needs to now move towards that's right and that's really what interested Holman hunt he was a very religious man and is using this modern life subject to speak to a bigger issue of spiritual transformation and alka encounter us at unexpected moments and look how hunt plays one figure against the next she's standing up preposterous straightening as she is awakening her moral conscience but she's contrasted against the man who is the source of corruption who is the source of her moral fall and he is reclining all of this is an entrapment in fact he holds her back she's going to have to literally break past that I think one of the points that hunt is trying to make is that the same person that can be the source of your sinfulness can be the same person who unwittingly provides the inspiration for your redemption for your awakening and so we have this inscription on the frame as he that taketh away a garment in cold weather so is he that's seeing its songs do a heavy heart so here are waiting moral issues that are really spiritual and yet what the artist is doing is placing these in his contemporary world and this is not showing biblical stories but showing stories that resonate as social problems in his immediate world and making it all very material and real in that typical pre-raphaelite way painting the furnishings of the room with incredible exactitude and making everything in the room have symbolic value well we know that the artists were actually looking back not to the Baroque not to the Renaissance but two artists immediately before that and specifically this is an artist who was probably looking at somebody like you on Van Eyck perhaps the Arnolfini wedding portrait which is in the National Gallery in London and was understanding that objects within a room can have a secondary symbolic meaning this painting would really need to be read by its viewers Hunt is asking us to look closely at all of the elements in the room and to think about what they mean in terms of the narrative that he's telling of this woman's spiritual awakening and so for instance if we look under the table on the left you can see a cat and if you look very closely you can see that that cat has caught a bird and this is clearly an analogy to the man and the he has kept her he has caught her the pre-raphaelites that were concerned with as you said he's very serious moral subjects and modern life's problems and taking this on so an artist who's using art history in order to really explicate contemporary subjects contemporary moral dilemmas some of the driving issues of the day