Pre-Raphaelite Portraits

For the Pre-Raphaelites, the first focal point in the movement was about the body – it’s phases were staged around how the human body was represented. The body was a focus for public and private pleasure.

In paintings, each of these women’s expressions embody enigma and distance; oftentimes, their poses remain static versus active.

The idealised Pre-Raphaelites often included an asymmetrical gaze, particularly in the interaction between men and women. Where men and women would look in different directions, often the man would be gazing directly at the woman, whilst the woman would look off into the distance or coyly has her eyes down. This can also be seen in the difference between self portraits and the portraits of women, where the man was always looking directly at the viewer and the women looking away. This asymmetry of the gazes is something that creates a male fantasy, where the woman is more easily fetishised.

Pre-Raphaelites also almost never painted nudes. There are two theories by Ioan P. Culiau for why this is, one states that human beings cover their bodies out of modesty and decency,  as clothes should be an obstacle to the eye and a sign of male ownership. Whilst the second theory is that the clothes become a sexual stimulant as although they cover the body, it attracts attention to it.


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