“Morgan-le-Fay” by Frederick Sandys
“Morgan-le-Fay” by Frederick Sandys portrays the Arthurian witch, and King Arthur’s protector, Morgan le Fay. In some versions of the King Arthur story, she is also known as Morgana and is King Arthur’s secret adversary.
Morgan le Fay, which means “Morgan the Fairy,” was a powerful enchantress in the Arthurian legends. Early references to Morgan as a witch, or sorceress, present her as generally benevolent and related to King Arthur as his magical savior and protector.
Her prominence in Arthurian legends increased over time, as did her moral ambivalence, and in some later texts, she becomes the antagonist. Morgan’s medieval and later iterations present her with an unpredictable duality and with the potential for both good and evil.
Her early identity may be rooted in Welsh mythology, as well as other previous myths and historical figures. There are also early chivalric romances in which her chief role is that of a great healer.
In the later French prose versions and the works based on them, she becomes an apprentice of Merlin. She also becomes a capricious and vindictive adversary to some of the knights of the Round Table. All the while, Morgan harbors a special hatred for Arthur’s wife, Guinevere.
In this tradition, she is also sexually active, taking numerous lovers, and develops an unrequited love for Lancelot. In some variants, Morgan is the greatest enemy of Arthur, scheming to usurp his throne. However, she eventually reconciles with Arthur, taking him on his final journey to Avalon after he is fatally wounded in battle.
After a period of being mostly absent from modern culture, Morgan’s character again rose to prominence in the 20th and 21st centuries, appearing in a wide variety of roles and portrayals in books, movies, and television episodes.
In this 1864 oil-on-wood painting by British Pre-Raphaelite painter Frederick Sandys, Le Fay is modeled by Sandys’ mistress Keomi Gray.
King Arthur was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries.
The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention. Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the body of Medieval literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain.
In the earliest Welsh and Breton tales and poems, Arthur appears as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies. The themes, events, and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version.
Arthur’s later portrayal as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established a vast empire is now an integral part of the Arthurian story. Including the magician Merlin, Arthur’s wife Guinevere, the sword Excalibur, and Morgan-le-Fay’s role in his journey to his final resting place in Avalon.
Later 12th-century French writer writers added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, beginning the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature.
Frederick Sandys (1829 – 1904) was an English painter and illustrator associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and with the Norwich School of painters.
“Morgan-le-Fay” is an 1864 oil on wood panel painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys, who was a disciple of Rossetti, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite.
Sandys specialized in half-length figures of beautiful but often destructive women. Sandys’s meticulous attention to detail is typical of the Pre-Raphaelite school.
By the early 1860s, he began to exhibit the paintings which set his reputation. The dominant influences on his art were conceptions of tragic power.
The somber intensity and stern beauty in his art meant that it was not always popular.
- Painting: Morgan-le-Fay
- Artist: Frederick Sandys
- Date: 1864
- Medium: oil on wood panel
- Style: Pre-Raphaelite
- Dimensions: Height: 61.8 cm (24.3 in); Width: 43.7 cm (17.2 in)
- Museum: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
- Artist: Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys
- Born: Antonio Frederic Augustus Sands
- Born: 1829, Norwich, England
- Died: 1904 (aged 75), Kensington, London, England
- Nationality: English
- Movement: Pre-Raphaelites and with the Norwich School of painters.
- Notable works:
Morgan le Fay
Pre-Raphaelite Painter Frederick Sandys
A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists
John Everett Millais
- 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
William Holman Hunt
- Christ in the House of His Parents
- Our English Coasts
- Isabella and the Pot of Basil
- Self-portrait William Holman Hunt
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John William Waterhouse
- 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
Marie Spartali Stillman
Ford Madox Brown
Morgana (Morgan le Fey): The Powerful Sorceress of Camelot
“Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story;
And tell it strong and clear if he has not:
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
– Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and T.H. White
Photo Credit: Frederick Sandys / Public domain