John Everett Millais's A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew's Day refusing to shield himself from danger by wearing a Roman Catholic badge is clearly a Pre-Raphaelite painting in its thorough and naturalistic attention to detail, but because of its subject matter, Millais makes certain compositional choices which, for a Pre-Raphaelite, are relatively unusual. First of all, Millais centers the painting very starkly on two human figures. As the title suggests, the man is a Huguenot, and by refusing to accept the Roman Catholic badge, he is potentially accepting physical harm, very possibly even death. His lover, the woman in the painting, tries to convince him to wear the badge, but he resists, even while they embrace and gaze into each other's eyes. Millais executes this subject, despite its vague religious and political overtones, with particular emphasis on the individual people in the painting. He emphasizes above all these two lovers lovingly in conflict with each other by compositionally framing the picture around the lovers and the one broken flower that has fallen near them — and by sternly separating these elements from the rest of the picture.
1. The man in the painting is clearly a Huguenot. However, it is less clear if the woman is a Huguenot also. Is there any indication of her religious affiliation? How is the interpretation of the painting changed by her religious affiliation?
2. Millais separates the flower, which lays broken apart on the ground and on the man's shoe, from the other flowers in the painting, by placement and by color. What is it symbolic significance?
3. The naturalistic detail throughout the painting contrasts heavily with its composition so rigidly separating the figures and the fallen flower from everything else. Does Millais manage to effectively reconcile a realistic attention to detail and a potentially unrealistic composition?
4. How does the separation of elements in the painting compare to Millais's Ophelia, whose elements are more thoroughly intertwined. How does this relate to the comparative effectiveness of the paintings?
5. Millais paints a ring on the woman's hand, yet one cannot be seen on either of the man's hands. Does this detail affect the symbolism?
Last modified 29 September 2006