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Sleeping Beauties in Victorian Britain

Cultural, Literary and Artistic Explorations of a Myth

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Edited By Beatrice Laurent

Artists, scientists and the wider public of the Victorian era all seem to have shared a common interest in the myth of the Briar Rose and its contemporary implications, from the Pre-Raphaelites and late Victorian aesthetes to the fascinated crowds who visited Ellen Sadler, the real-life ‘Sleeping Maid’ who is reported to have slept from 1871 to 1880.
The figure of the beautiful reclining female sleeper is a recurring theme in the Victorian imagination, invoking visual, literary and erotic connotations that contribute to a complex range of readings involving aesthetics, gender definitions and contemporary medical opinion. This book compiles and examines a corpus of Sleeping Beauties drawn from Victorian medical reports, literature and the arts and explores the significance of the enduring revival of the myth.
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Aesthetics of Desire: Ruskin, Burne-Jones and Their Sleeping Beauties

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Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98) met John Ruskin (1819–1900) in 1856, as he was preparing to start life as a painter under the guidance of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Ruskin immediately took the emerging artist under his wing. Burne-Jones, who had been reading Ruskin seriously for a few years and admired his work unreservedly, willingly became his protégé. Shortly thereafter, a most interesting and enduring friendship developed, which was as much intellectual as it was personal. Initially, Ruskin’s role as a mentor to the younger man was heavily prescriptive. He even took both the artist and his wife Georgiana – whom he now called his ‘dear children’1 – to Italy, so that Burne-Jones could further his artistic education along the lines Ruskin envisaged. He commissioned copies of old masters and kept buying original work from Burne-Jones. He supervised closely his friend’s progress and chided him when he did not approve of his work method or results. Ruskin was a compulsive teacher who hoped to educate a new generation of modern painters after his own principles. He had taken a fatherly interest in the careers of other young artists, of the first Pre-Raphaelite wave. Sadly, few of them returned his affection. Most notably, John Everett Millais rejected his teaching and seduced his wife. Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal, who had both benefited from Ruskin’s financial generosity, turned their backs on him. Of all his protégés, Burne-Jones alone remained a close friend and continued to be interested in Ruskin’s...

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