“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes
“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes depicts Henry II of England’s beautiful mistress and true love. The King had created a secret garden for Rosamund, accessible only via a maze. Hughes has painted the moment when Queen Eleanor, seen in the background, discovers the garden entrance.
Rosamund Clifford (1150 – 1176), often called “The Fair Rosamund,” was famed for her beauty and became famous in English folklore.
Rosamund grew up at Castle Clifford before going to Godstow Nunnery, near Oxford, to be educated by the nuns. Soon after her education was completed, King Henry adopted her as his mistress.
To conceal his illicit relationship from his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, he met Rosamund within the innermost recesses of a maze which he had created as a secret garden at Woodstock, a Royal estate in Oxfordshire,
Queen Eleanor heard the rumors and contrived to penetrate the labyrinth and confronted her rival. She forced Rosamund to choose between the dagger or the cup of poison. Rosamund chose the poisoned cup and died.
The romantic story was handed down for generations and gradually embroidered with various additional details.
The symbolism in the composition and its many details is typically Pre-Raphaelite and adds depth to the narrative.
Hughes painted the deadly foxgloves flowers a source of poison along the queen’s path to Rosamund to symbolize the unfolding events. Hughes’s technique and luminous colors are reminiscent of fellow artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s watercolors.
The irises in the foreground are symbolic and portentous as the Greek Goddess Iris chaperoned the dead’s souls. Irises are also related to the fleur-de-lis, the French Crown symbol, and Eleanor had been Queen of France before her marriage to Henry.
Rosamund Clifford was reputedly one of the great beauties of the 12th century and inspired ballads, poems, stories, and paintings.
In Victorian Britain, poison was also the weapon of choice for murders during the nineteenth century, with arsenic implicated in nearly a third of all criminal cases.
It is not surprising, then, that a famous story of poisoning was a popular subject with artists during the Victorian era of Pre-Raphaelites.
Henry II of England
Henry II (1133 – 1189) was King of England from 1154 to his death. His marriage to Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine made him Duke of Aquitaine.
Henry and Eleanor had eight legitimate children, three daughters and five sons. Three of his sons would become kings.
Henry’s relationship with his wife Eleanor was complex. Henry initially trusted Eleanor, but ultimately, their relationship disintegrated.
Henrey had several long-term mistresses, including Rosamund Clifford. Henry also had several illegitimate children; amongst the most prominent of these were Geoffrey, later Archbishop of York, and William, later Earl of Salisbury.
His family was divided by rivalries and violent hostilities, more so than many other royal families of the day.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages. She led armies several times in her life and was a leader of the Second Crusade.
Eleanor became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry was her third cousin and 11 years younger.
Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting their son Henry’s revolt against him. She was not released until her husband Henry died, and their third son, Richard the Lionheart, ascended the throne.
As queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade. Eleanor also lived well into the reign of Richard’s heir and her youngest son, John.
- Title: Fair Rosamund
- Artist: Arthur Hughes
- Date: 1854
- Medium: oil on cardboard
- Style: Pre-Raphaelite
- Category: Mythological Paintings
- Dimensions: Height: 403 mm (15.86 in); Width: 305 mm (12 in)
- Museum: National Gallery of Victoria
Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915) was an English painter and illustrator associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Hughes was born in London and joined the Royal Academy school, where he met the Pre-Raphaelite Group members.
Although Arthur Hughes was not officially elected to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), he is closely associated with the group and is constantly referred to as a Pre-Raphaelite.
Hughes’s legacy includes about 700 known paintings and drawings, along with over 750 book illustrations.
- Name: Arthur Hughes
- Born: 1832 – London, England
- Died: 1915 – Kew Green, London
- Nationality: English
- Notable works:
The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.
The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.
The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy.
They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.
The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.
A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.
The History of Rosamund Clifford
A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists
- Christ in the House of His Parents
- The Martyr of Solway
- Blow Blow Thou Wind
- The Black Brunswicker
- A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford
- Our English Coasts
- Isabella and the Pot of Basil
- Self-portrait William Holman Hunt
- Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids
- Lady Lilith
- Dante’s Dream
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Self Portrait
- The Beloved
- Bocca Baciata
- Paolo and Francesca da Rimini
- The Day Dream
- The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice
- Helen of Troy
Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine
- The Lady of Shalott
- The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius
- Circe Invidiosa
- I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Said the Lady of Shalott
- Hylas and the Nymphs
- Echo and Narcissus
- Ulysses and the Sirens
- Consulting the Oracle
- A Tale from the Decameron
- Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses
- Saint Eulalia
- Fair Rosamund
Ford Madox Brown
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Revolutionaries
“Wise to resolve, and patient to perform.”
Photo Credit: Arthur Hughes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons