Tennyson's poem "Godiva" tells the tale of Godiva, wife of the powerful Lord Leofric, who mercilessly raised the taxes on his people. Hearing their pleas for relief, Godiva went to her husband to ask that he lower the taxes, to which he responded that he would lower them when she rode through the town naked at midday. Taking him at his word, Godiva did indeed make the ride, though, out of respect for her sacrifice, the townspeople agreed to shut themselves in their houses and not watch. Godiva rode to lift the taxes on her husband's subjects, and with that ride, became the people's heroine. William Holman Hunt's illustration for "Godiva" portrays the lady as she prepares for her rides, just about to unclasp the wedding buckle her husband gave to her. She glances back at the closed door, her figure almost classical in form. Despite the engraving's small size, Hunt manages to show great detail, including the carvings on Godiva's fireplace and around the doors and windows, as well as the many folds in her modest clothing.
1. Before this engraving, many artists used the subject of Godiva as a chance to paint a nude. However, Hunt chose to depict her fully clothed. Did Hunt have a particular reason for portraying her clothed?
2. The cross on the church in the window may have been meant to emphasize the Christian values that led Godiva to make such a sacrifice for the townspeople. Are there any other possible symbols in this piece of art?
3. Why did Hunt choose to hide most of Godiva's face? Is there a particular reason she looks away from the viewer, or did he choose this pose for its aesthetic value?
4. Where perhaps religious scenes would be expected, carvings of cranes and alligators appear on Godiva's alter. Is there any particular reason for this incongruity?
Poems by Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate. London: E. Moxon, 1857.
Last modified 16 September 2003