"The Burden of the Image:" Jane Morris in Art and Life
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"'The Burden of the Image:' Jane Morris in Art and Life" examines the work and life of Pre-Raphaelite model Jane Burden Morris (1839-1914). Burden Morris, an embroiderer and wife of the arts and crafts designer William Morris (1834-96), became famous in her own lifetime as the model for a number of Pre-Raphaelite works, particularly the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). Although she was not considered conventionally beautiful by Victorian standards, artists drew heavily upon Burden Morris’s appearance, particularly her striking features and unusual artistic dress, in order to heighten the exoticism of their works and to suggest moments outside contemporary Victorian time and place. Burden Morris’s features became synonymous with the Pre-Raphaelite ideal in female beauty and several contemporaries reflected upon the surreal experience of meeting the enigmatic woman thought only to exist in paintings. Borrowing from a material culture approach which views images as both reflective and formative of identity, this work considers the relationship between Jane Burden Morris and her painted representation, and focuses in particular on the works produced through Burden Morris’s long-standing collaboration with Rossetti. Through an examination of Burden Morris’s appearance, activities, and demeanour, this dissertation considers the aspects of Burden Morris’s identity which contributed to her use in numerous Pre-Raphaelite images, and further explores the way in which these paintings may have altered how Burden Morris conceived of her own identity. “The Burden of the Image” examines three dominant modes of representing Burden Morris, including depictions of Burden Morris as medieval damsel, myth, and monster. It also considers Jane Burden Morris’s role within the broader context of aestheticism, and explores her relationship to the artistic dress movement and the aesthetic interior.