Thursday, April 9, 2009

Arthur Hughes - The Eve of St. Agnes

The Theme of "The Eve of St. Agnes" in the Pre-Raphaelite Movement

This picture is a study for a larger triptych (now in the Tate Gallery) which Hughes exhibited in 1856. The study originally belonged to the sculptor, Alexander Munro, with whom Hughes shared a studio in the mid 1850s. The combined types of lighting in the episodes which Hughes selected from Keats's poem, recall Hunt's preoccupation with similar effects. The division of the composition into three panels, in the manner of a medieval alterpiece. was, no doubt, inspired by Brown and Rossetti. Hunt, too, certainly inspired the right hand panel, the escape of Porphyro and Madeline from the castle, which Hunt had painted in 1848. But Hughes depicted Keats's Eve of St. Agnes with a sensitivity to the verse that was alien to Hunt (who was the least poetic of the group) and to Rossetti who imposed his personal vision on everything he painted. Like Millais. he had a marvellous talent for illustration and did his most interesting work, after the 1850s, for publishers.

St Agnes' Eve---Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.


Mary Sharpe said...

The St Agnes Eve poem by Coleridge is one of my favourites.


Brother Westover said...

It's by Keats, not by Coleridge!