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“Love’s Messenger” by Marie Spartali Stillman

Loves Messenger Stillman

“Love’s Messenger” by Marie Spartali Stillman

“Love’s Messenger” by Marie Spartali Stillman is a watercolour portraying a dove which has carried a love letter to a woman standing in front of an open window. She was interrupted while embroidering a blindfolded Cupid which can be seen in the bottom left. In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. His symbols are the arrow and torch, because love wounds and inflames the heart. Love’s Messenger reflects the influence of both Pre-Raphaelite painting and Italian Renaissance painting.

The scene offers a contrast between the beauty and love of Venus as symbolised by the dove and rose and the sensuality and unpredictability of Cupid’s arrow. The symbolism portrayed in the picture, include:

  • the dove on her hand
  • the rose on her dress
  • the ivy by the window, and
  • the blindfolded Cupid in the embroidery.

The symbols portrayed in the painting suggest fidelity and beauty in full bloom, but also the pain that Cupid’s arrows. Cupid, after all, is Venus unpredictable son. As described by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1590s):

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath love’s mind of any judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is love said to be a child
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.”

Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Euphrosyne Spartali (Greek: Μαρία Ευφροσύνη Σπαρτάλη), later Stillman was a British painter of Greek descent. She was the most celebrated female artist of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Spartali Stillman produced over one hundred works, contributing to exhibitions in Britain and the United States. The subjects of her paintings were female figures, scenes from Shakespeare, Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio and Italian landscapes.

Pre-Raphaelites

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 colours and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from life and literature. They 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, they created a distinct name for their art and published a periodical to promote their ideas. And later, the medievalising influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

John Ruskin had influenced the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to painting from nature and depicting nature in exquisite detail. John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.

Reflections

  • How did the Pre-Raphaelite movement influence this picture?
  • The pain that Cupid’s arrows may inflict.
  • Why is Cupid so unpredictable?

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art

Love’s Messenger

    • Title:                Love’s Messenger
    • Artist:              Marie Spartali Stillman
    • Date:               1885
    • Medium:         Watercolour, tempera and gold colour on paper mounted on wood
    • Style:               Pre-Raphaelite
    • Dimensions:    32 × 26 in (81.3 × 66 cm)

Marie Spartali Stillman

  • Name:               Marie Spartali Stillman
  • Greek Name:    Μαρία Ευφροσύνη Σπαρτάλη
  • Born:                 1844
  • Died:                 1927
  • Notable works:

Quotes by John Ruskin

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“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.”

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“What we think or what we know or what we believe is at the end of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do. “

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“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”

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“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”

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“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

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“Paint the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.”

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“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”

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“In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”

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“I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility.”

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“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.”

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“Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin

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Photo Credit: Marie Spartali Stillman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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