Many Pre-Raphaelite works can be read as responses to the tension between internal and external subjects. In Tennyson, the artistic spirit becomes the subject of allegories exploring the relationship between the artistic mind and society. Here the internal element -the soul - is acted upon by the external world. Contrastingly, in paintings such as Millais's Mariana and Rossetti's Veronica Veronese, the internal influences the external. The women in these pictures first appear closed off, because of their distant and inscrutable gazes. However, their inner activities and moods bleed into their surroundings and become visible. The domestic interior becomes a mirror for the soul and conforms to the mood of its inhabitant. In Rossetti's vision paintings, the internal, personal realm is further externalized. Visions and dreams are projected onto the canvas and replace realistic settings as backdrops for female figures.

The interest in interiority is an interesting facet of the Pre-Raphaelite program. It caused artists to play with innovative ways to express dreams and mental states. The profusion of images of contemplative females and figures such as the Lady of Shalott in Pre-Raphaelite poetry and visual arts can be attributed to a shared compulsion: the need for artists to work through anxieties and curiosities about the relationship between a human's interior world and the external world. These tropes were convenient tools with which to explore the conflicts and tensions that surround this relationship.

Picturing the life of the mind: Pre-Raphaelite Preoccupation with Interiority


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Last modified 26 December 2006