John Millais (1829–1896) was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English artists who united in 1848 hoping to renew British painting. They idealized the sincerity of purpose and clarity of form of the early Italian Renaissance artists—before Raphael—finding art that they sought to emulate.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood often used allegorical images to create a narrative which taught a moral virtue or virtues…wikipedia
She only said, ‘My life is dreary, He cometh not,’ she said: She said, “I am aweary, aweary, I would that I were dead!’
The inspiration for the poem was taken from the character of Mariana in Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, who was locked in a moated grange…for years after her dowry was lost at sea in a storm, causing her to be rejected by her lover, Angelo. However, the happily ever after ending found in Shakespeare’s play is not even hinted at in either Tennyson’s poem or the painting by Millais. Quote from smarthistory
Millais used Tennyson’s poetry to create a narrative for his painting of Mariana, and he wanted to allow the viewer familiar with Tennyson’s poetry to read the entire poem through the painting. wikipedia
In the picture the autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Mariana has been working at some embroidery and pauses to stretch her back. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose and the needle thrust fiercely into her embroidery. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin’s fulfilment with Mariana’s frustration and longing. Quote from Tate Museum
Inspired by the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to ‘go to nature’, they believed in an art of serious subjects treated with maximum realism. Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. They also explored modern social problems. quote from Tate Museum
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood opposed two popular trends of that time:
the Royal Academy’s promotion of the Renaissance master Raphael.
the immensely popular genre painting of the Victorian era. (The term genre painting refers to paintings which depict scenes of everyday life)
Summary of Millais’ “Mariana”
Millais’s painting shows Mariana from Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure. She leads a solitary life, rejected by her fiancé Angelo after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. But she is still in love and longs for him. Mariana’s tired pose, her embroidery, and the fallen leaves suggest the burden of her yearning as time passes.
In Mariana, Millais has created both an essay in Pre-Raphaelite execution and an evocative literary female portrait. The viewer feels the release of her aching muscles as she leans backward, however we are also palpably aware of her isolation. It is a work that is at once vibrant and colorful, but also cold and forbidding.