John Everett Millais – Mariana (1851)

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Sir John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on wood, 597 x 495 mm (Tate Britain)

Who is John Everett Millais?

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.[2]

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood often used allegorical images to create a narrative which taught a moral virtue or virtues…wikipedia

Illustration for Tennyson’s “Mariana”

According to Dr. Rebecca Jeffrey Easby,  “Mariana” is an illustration to Tennyson’s poem:

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

For example,

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

Video from Smarthistory: “Mariana” by Millais

The Poem: “Mariana”

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Mariana in the Moated Grange”
(Shakespeare, Measure for Measure)

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Her tears fell with the dews at even;
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
She could not look on the sweet heaven,
Either at morn or eventide.
After the flitting of the bats,
When thickest dark did trance the sky,
She drew her casement-curtain by,
And glanced athwart the glooming flats.
She only said, “The night is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”
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Sir John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on wood, 597 x 495 mm (Tate Britain) detail

Upon the middle of the night,

Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
The cock sung out an hour ere light:
From the dark fen the oxen’s low
Came to her: without hope of change,
In sleep she seem’d to walk forlorn,
Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “The day is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken’d waters slept,
And o’er it many, round and small,
The cluster’d marish-mosses crept.
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarled bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said “I am aweary, aweary
I would that I were dead!”

And ever when the moon was low,
And the shrill winds were up and away,
In the white curtain, to and fro,
She saw the gusty shadow sway.
But when the moon was very low
And wild winds bound within their cell,
The shadow of the poplar fell
Upon her bed, across her brow.
She only said, “The night is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”
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Sir John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on wood, 597 x 495 mm (Tate Britain) detail
All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak’d;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,
Or from the crevice peer’d about.
Old faces glimmer’d thro’ the doors
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without.
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 sparrow’s chirrup on the roof,
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower.
Then said she, “I am very dreary,
He will not come,” she said;
She wept, “I am aweary, aweary,
Oh God, that I were dead!”

What Is the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

The Pre-Raphaelites were a secret society whose principal members were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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)

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Sir John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on wood, 597 x 495 mm (Tate Britain) detail

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.

quote from Dr. Rebecca Jeffrey Easby at smarthistory

Click for Image Details

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on wood, 597 x 495 mm (Tate Britain)

Read More About This Painting:

Read More About John Everett Millais

Read More About the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Bibliography:

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