Past Events

DRN WIP Workshop: Women as Professional Art Models and the Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetic Mission (1848–1865)

DRN Events – Cátia Rodrigues

  • 10 May 2022
  • 4:00 – 5:00 pm
  • Online

This is an event for DRN members only. You can find out more about the network here.

The DRN’s Work-In-Progress Workshop series is an opportunity for members of the network to present papers on their research relating to British art histories. We are keen to encourage collaboration within our research community and hope that these WIP workshops will help researchers develop their work whilst simultaneously making all our members productively aware of new issues, ideas, directions and methodologies developing within the field of British art history.

In the production of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1849–50), the poet and artist’s sister, Christina Rossetti, sat for the figure of Virgin Mary. In fact, Christina would become a common face in her brother’s religious works. As a deeply devotional woman herself, the subjects for which Christina modelled mirrored her own life. This is one of multiple examples which have led scholars to consider the Pre-Raphaelite practice of typecasting models for roles that match their own experiences. In Ecce Ancilla Domini!, however, Christina’s physique did not completely fulfil the artist’s vision for this particular portrayal of Virgin Mary, so Dante Rossetti hired a “professional” model, Miss Love, from whom he could base the red hair in the figure. This is one of many instances where Pre-Raphaelite artists relied on the employment of women who were not part of their personal circles to complete works. Despite the frequency of this example, scholarship is yet to fully explore the interactions between Pre-Raphaelite artists and hired models. Indeed, the idea of models as partners in the creative process has driven most recent Pre-Raphaelite studies and exhibitions. The argument has been centred mostly, however, on women who modelled for artists for free – as friends, family or romantic partners. The latter especially has motivated assumptions of artist-model interactions, thereby limiting our understanding of Pre-Raphaelite artists’ engagement with models, and excluding readings of employment relationships between the artists and paid models.

This paper explores the interactions between the collectives of Pre-Raphaelite artists and the women they employed as models in the early decades of the movement. Moving beyond truisms of the artist-model relationship that have dominated the consideration of Pre-Raphaelite models, this paper focuses on the relation between the Pre-Raphaelite group of artists as employers, and the group of women who were employed as models. Cátia addresses the extent to which the employment of models, and female models specifically, relates to the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic mission. For this purpose, the paper seeks to understand whether the rethinking of Pre-Raphaelite artists as employers and the hired models as employees affects the group’s internal dynamics, and its relation to their social context. This study does not rely exclusively on male artists’ experiences, as Pre-Raphaelite women artists’ views and practices are considered alongside them. In doing so, this paper presents a more comprehensive consideration of artists-models’ interactions in the early Pre-Raphaelite context.

About the speaker

  • Cátia Rodrigues is a PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, funded by TECHNE/AHRC. Her research focuses on the diverse artistic networks formed by women who contributed to the initial stage of the Pre-Raphaelite movement not only as artists, but also as writers, patrons and models. She aims to explore the extent to which their participation reveals a collective artistic identity, and how their gendered contributions affected the aesthetic direction of Pre-Raphaelitism in its first decades. Cátia is currently Legacy Officer and Dissertation Prize Coordinator at the Association for Art History’s Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) Committee, and is also the Newsletter Editor for the Women’s History Network (WHN).