Gallery 3 – The Pre-Raphaelites & Symbolists.

Gallery 3A: Burne-Jones.

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As stated in chapter 11 of the main essay, though no prominent Pre-Raphaelite artist produced a painting directly relating to FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, they did produce paintings incorporating what might be called Omarian symbolism: that is, symbolism which is similar to and used to the same ends as that used by Omar and hence FitzGerald. Thus, Burne-Jones’ “The Wheel of Fortune” (1875-1883) (Fig.1) symbolises that Kings and Beggars alike must be swept along on the Wheel of Fortune, equally powerless to stay its motion, a sentiment shared with FitzGerald’s verses 50 and 51. (Actually, the symbolism is a little more complex than this – see note 57a for details.) His painting “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid”(1884), mentioned in connection with verse 10, refers to the vagaries of human love, one aspect of the Caprice of Fortune (Fig.2). His painting “Hope”(1896), mentioned in connection with verse 14, again symbolises the ultimate futility of many of Man’s “worldly hopes” in the face of Fate (Fig.3). Finally, his “Love among the Ruins” (1894) dwells on the transience of even the deepest love in the face of Time, which devours all (Fig.4). Interestingly, Burne-Jones did a very similar miniature painting to accompany some verses of The Rubaiyat in one of the hand-crafted manuscript versions he did with William Morris  (Fig.5) (see note 55a: for comparison, two pages from the other hand-crafted manuscript mentioned in note 55a, produced by Morris, Burne-Jones and Murray, are given here as Fig.6.) Also included in this Gallery are a) “The Troy Triptych”, the painting which, as mentioned in chapter 11 of the main essay, gives us a good snapshot of the way Burne-Jones uses Omarian symbolism in broader contexts (Fig.7) and b) an interesting watercolour study for “The Wheel of Fortune” panel of “The Troy Triptych”, painted in 1870 (Fig.8). It is particularly interesting because the figure of Fortune is blindfolded, as she often is in ancient Roman iconography.  Fig.9 is a woodcut from Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), the strange allegorical work which, as mentioned in chapter 8 of the main essay, was probably the main source of inspiration for Burne-Jones’ “Love among the Ruins” (see note 38g.)

Gallery 3B: Rossetti.

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Turning to Rossetti’s painting “Venus Verticordia” (1864-1868) (Fig.1), as mentioned earlier, the picture’s principal message, as is made clear by the sonnet he wrote to accompany the painting, is one of “the dangerous consequences of sexual compulsion.” Subsidiary to this, its flowers and its butterflies are said to symbolise “the transitoriness of youth and life” and “the fleeting pleasures of beauty and love”, transience being the Omarian element. Rossetti’s key preoccupation with Love (Soul) and Lust (Body) is well illustrated by a pair of paintings, both having accompanying sonnets. The first is his “Sybilla Palmifera” (painted between 1866 and 1870) (Fig.2), which, according to the title of its sonnet, represents “Soul’s Beauty”, and hence Love. The second is his “Lady Lilith” (painted between 1864 and 1868) (Fig.3), the title of whose sonnet is “Body’s Beauty”, hence Lust (i.e Woman’s instigation of Lust in Man: see the note on Lilith in Gallery 3I below.) Note the other symbols in the paintings – in “Lady Lilith”: the mirror, possibly indicative of Vanity, but possibly also indicative of her calculating to entice; the scented roses and poppies of Allurement; and the “strangling golden hair” of Entrapment. In “Sybilla Palmifera”: the palm, traditionally representing victory (of Soul over Body?); butterflies (here, perhaps, emblematic of the soul rather than of transience); and flowers (here representing beauty rather than transience?) Less noticeable are the background symbols on a level with Sybilla’s head – the blindfolded Cupid, representing Love, on the left; the Sphinx just to the right of her head, representing Mystery; and the Skull on the far right, representing Death. The sphinx symbol is particularly interesting here, for it brings us to a work of Rossetti’s, mentioned earlier, which is much more directly Omarian. This is his little-known drawing (done in 1875 for a painting which was never completed) variously titled “The Sphinx” or “The Question” (Fig.4). The drawing shows the figures of Youth, Manhood and Old Age approaching the Sphinx “to question the Unknown”. But the Sphinx makes no answer, her face remaining inscrutable, her eyes looking beyond the insistent figure of Manhood. Youth in the drawing is dead, representing the mystery of early death. More details of the symbolism of this drawing are given in note 57c; see also the note on the Sphinx in Gallery 3J below. Also included in this Gallery is “The Blessed Damozel”, painted between 1875 and 1878 (Fig.5), again mentioned in chapter 11 of the main essay as giving a good snapshot of Rossetti’s main concerns in his paintings and poems. It is a curious coincidence that this painting, like Burne-Jones’ “Troy Triptych”, is in the form of an altar.

Gallery 3C: Millais.

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The case of Millais is interesting, for though I can find no reference to him being a fan of the Rubaiyat, as both Rossetti and Burne-Jones were, nevertheless his paintings involve much Omarian symbolism. As noted in chapter 11 of the main essay, this need not be surprising, since any artist or poet dealing with the issues of Life is almost bound to use Omarian symbolism, with or without Omar’s help: Omarian symbolism does not necessarily indicate the influence of either Omar or FitzGerald. Thus, as noted earlier, Millais’ painting “Bubbles” (1885) (Fig.1) is said to indicate the transience of human life, the bubbles symbolising the beauty and fragility of life, whilst the broken pot at the bottom left of the painting symbolises death. (If this is the case, it is particularly ironic that the painting probably achieved its greatest fame via its use in adverts for Pears Soap! (Fig.2) In more recent times, Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” did much the same via adverts for Hovis Bread!) But getting back to more serious matters, as Roger Bowdler noted, “Millais was to return again and again to the solemn themes of death and mutability throughout his half-century-long career,” his most famous picture concerning death being his “Vale of Rest” (1858-9) (Fig.3). His painting “Autumn Leaves”(1855-6) (Fig.4) is likewise commonly held to be symbolic of the transience of human life on account of its associations with twilight and dead autumnal leaves. Again, Millais certainly did dwell on the survival of bodily death in his picture “Speak! Speak!” (1895) (Fig.5), in which a young Roman is confronted by the apparition of his dead wife, and he also dwelt on the subject of Man’s mortality in his painting “Time the Reaper” (also painted in 1895) (Fig.6), in which Time, depicted as an aged man, with a scythe and hour glass, enters the House of Life. (This painting is now lost, and only this engraving of it survives.) More details of the symbolism involved in these paintings are given in note 57e, h & i. Finally “Spring (Apple Blossoms)” (1859) (Fig.7) is another of Millais’s paintings carrying Omarian symbolism, this time the transience of youth (see the notes on verse 72).

Gallery 3D: Walter Crane.

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Among the later Pre-Raphaelites, Walter Crane is of the greatest interest here. Though Crane is counted as a later member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, having met Morris and Burne-Jones in 1871, he is also ranked as a member of the Aesthetic Movement. Today he is most famous for his illustrations of children’s books, executed from the 1860’s onwards, and also for his socialist cartoons. But he is of more interest to us here for his symbolic paintings and drawings, some of which are related to ideas expressed in The Rubaiyat.

The most interesting of these is his painting “The Roll of Fate” (Fig.1). This was painted in 1882 following on from the deaths of his infant son and his sister, Lucy, and is specifically intended to illustrate verses 98 and 99 of the 3rd or 4th edition of The Rubaiyat, most particularly verse 98:

Would but some winged Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!

The significance of the painting, given the text, which is reproduced in its elaborate frame, needs no further explanation. (For the background to this painting, see Isobel Spencer, Walter Crane (1975), p.123 & p.126-7. The painting was sold at Christie’s on 4th June 2009, and there is an interesting note on it in the sale catalogue, which can also be accessed online at:

In 1884, Crane went on to paint “The Bridge of Life” (Fig.2), which, though not directly related to The Rubaiyat, is nevertheless related to the endless cycle of birth and death that feature in it. P.G.Konody, in his book The Art of Walter Crane (1902) explains the symbolism of the painting thus:

“The allegory is simple and clearly expressed. Under a graceful, but very fragile bridge, are the boats of Life and of Death. The new-born babe is handed out of the boat of Life to Clotho, who holds the beginning of the thread of life, which is handed from figure to figure, until it comes down to Atropos, whose shears cut it in twain above the pall which Death spreads over the corpse in the boat of Death. All the steps of human development find their allegorical representation on the steps of the bridge. The ascent shows the suckling babe at the mother's breast, then the infant's first attempt at walking, guided by the solicitous mother. Next comes a sage holding a roll of paper before the child. Below the figure of Lachesis is a child playing with a bubble; then follow a pair of lovers in affectionate embrace. At the height of the bridge stands the hero, crowned by Fame and accepting the floral offerings of Love and Beauty, whilst Pan, holding the hero's leg, recalls him to the things of this earth. The descent commences: first the pursuit of money held aloft by a maiden, beyond the reach of his eager hand. Is it mere accident, or the artist's intention, that there is more passion, more movement in this figure than in any of the others? The traces of age appear already in the features of a man bent under the burden of a heavy globe — the troubles of this world. The next step shows the greybeard, supported by a staff and a youth, ere he descends into the boat of Death, into which a mourning woman drops a laurel wreath.” (p.97)

Note that Clotho, Atropos and Lachesis are the Three Fates of Greek Mythology. Clotho spins the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle; Lachesis measures the thread of life allotted to each person; and Atropos cuts the thread of life and chooses the manner of death for each person in turn.

Crane attached the following sonnet to the painting:

What is Life? A Bridge that ever
Bears a throng across a river;
There the Taker; here the Giver.

Life beginning and Life ending,
Life his substance ever spending,
Time to Life his little lending.

What is Life? In its beginning
From the staff see Clotho spinning
Golden threads, and worth the winning.

Life with Love, fate-woven ever,
Life the web, and Love the weaver,
Atropos at last doth sever!

What is Life to Grief complaining?
Fortune, Fame, and Love disdaining,
Hope, perchance, alone remaining.

In 1891, Crane went on to paint the crude but effective picture “The Mower” (Fig.3), which Isobel Spencer describes as “one of Crane’s oddest inventions.”(op.cit. p.131) It shows the Grim Reaper about to scythe down a field of humanoid daisies! I would guess that the source of inspiration for this curious image is that well-known part of “The Order for the Burial of the Dead” in The Book of Common Prayer:

“Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.”

The text is from Job 14.1-2, and its links with ideas of mortality contained in The Rubaiyat need no elaboration.

Another oddity by Crane, also painted in 1891, was “The Fountain of Youth” (Fig.4), which Konody describes thus:

“The labourer, the pair of lovers, the sage with his crystal, the warrior, the mother and child, and the typical figure of old age supported  by younger arms — all can be found grouped around the basin, in the centre of which, on a globe, stands Youth, surrounded by a flight of doves, and dressed in a light diaphanous garment.  From a small jar she pours the miraculous water down into the basin.” (p.104)

This, of course, links up with the idea behind “Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript” of FitzGerald’s verse 72.

Yet another, much earlier, painting of Crane’s is his “Ormuzd and Ahriman” (Fig.5), painted between 1868 and 1870. The painting shows Ormuzd, the Zoroastrian god of Good and Light, on a white horse, battling against Ahriman, God of Evil and Darkness, on a black horse. They are locked in perpetual battle beside the River of Time, which flows past the Ruins of Ages Past – an Egyptian Temple, a Celtic Dolmen, a Greek Temple and a Gothic Cathedral. In the foreground on the right lies a crowned skeleton clutching a sceptre, symbolising the transience of earthly power. This, of course, links up with “Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp” of FitzGerald’s verse 16, and the ruined “Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep” of his verse 17. For this painting, see Konody p.94 & Spencer p.66-7. For Ormuzd and Ahriman, see Appendix 2D.

In view of all the foregoing, it is a great pity, I think, that Crane never produced an illustrated edition of The Rubaiyat!

Gallery 3E – J.W.Waterhouse

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Also among the later Pre-Raphaelites, in connection with FitzGerald’s verse 26, I quoted Herrick’s famous carpe diem line, “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”, which inspired J.W.Waterhouse to produce two paintings of that title in 1908 (Fig.1) and 1909 (Fig.2). How much symbolism Waterhouse himself intended to be read into these paintings, though, is not clear, for they can be seen simply against the background of his many girl-with-flowers paintings, like “Windflowers” (1903) (Fig.3), “Camelias” (c 1910), “The Rose Bower” (c.1910) or “Maidens picking Flowers by a Stream” (c.1911). It is perhaps worth noting, though, that one of his girl-with-flowers paintings was certainly symbolic – namely, “Vanity” (c 1910) (Fig.4). For a good account of Waterhouse and his paintings generally, see Anthony Hobson, J.W.Waterhouse (1989).

Gallery 3F – Evelyn de Morgan.

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A later Pre-Raphaelite who does intentionally use some Omarian symbolism in her paintings is Evelyn de Morgan, though actually it would be wrong to call her an Omarian, for her response to the riddles of life that drove Omar to despair was very different to that of The Rubaiyat. Though de Morgan rejected the creeds offered by the orthodox churches, she was no agnostic, for she was a devotee of Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose teachings about spiritual progression she saw confirmed through the Victorian preoccupation with Spiritualism: she herself channeled automatic writings from the spirit world. (For Swedenborg and Spiritualism, see note 16a to the main essay.) Basically, then, she believe that this life marked one stage in the spiritual evolution of the soul, and that death marked the passage to the next and higher stage. In many ways, this earthly body was a prison, whose shaking-off at death was to be welcomed. Her paintings “The Mourners” (1916-7) (Fig.1), “An Angel piping to the Souls in Hell” (1916) (Fig.2), and that strangely titled work – actually taken from Matthew 11.12 – “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth Violence, and the Violent take it by Force” (c.1905-1910) (Fig.3), all clearly reflect her views on what happens after bodily death. (The last of these, incidentally, depicts the struggles encountered in the course of spiritual evolution. The first probably relates specifically to the horrific death toll of the First World War, de Morgan being a pacifist.) Also of interest in this respect are her paintings “Earthbound” (1897) (Fig.4) and “The Soul’s Prison House” (c.1888) (Fig.5), and this is where we start to see some Omarian symbolism, for the former shows a king dwelling on his earthly riches, oblivious to the promise of the heavenly life on offer behind him. The painting thus shows the same disdain for earthly power and wealth as The Rubaiyat, but for very different reasons. Again, her painting “Boreas and the Fallen Leaves” (c 1905-1910) (Fig.6) arguably uses the same analogy for mortality as Millais’ “Autumn Leaves”, though more overtly so. (This analogy dates back to Homer’s Iliad, if not before – see note 57f.) However, since de Morgan was a feminist, and since the naked figures in the painting are all female, and being blown about willy nilly by a muscular male, then it is also possible that it is a protest against the status of women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries!

Perhaps the most interesting of her allegorical paintings for us here is “The Hour Glass” (1904-5) (Fig.7). This shows an ageing and wealthy woman thrown into a melancholy mood as she contemplates her own mortality. The hour-glass on which her hand rests is clearly symbolic of the passage of time, and the tapestry behind her apparently represents the memories of the joyous past events in her life. The hour-glass rests on a stand carved in the shape of a harpy, a bird-like creature of Greek mythology with a woman’s head, said to kidnap people and carry them off. The harpy here is thus presumably symbolic of being carried off by death. On the floor in the foreground is a plucked flower, a clear enough symbol of transience. But whereas all the foregoing is distinctly Omarian, de Morgan’s spiritualist beliefs rescue it, for in the right background is an Angel playing heavenly music, of which the preoccupied woman seems oblivious, and in the left foreground is a book, bearing the title Mors Janus Vitae meaning “Death, the Gateway of Life” Oswald Doughty, in his book A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1949), referred to this and other paintings by Evelyn de Morgan as “Preraphaelitesque monstrosities…like some elaborate parody of all that was worst in the movement” (p.372), but this seems rather harsh to say the least, as they are really of great interest for their symbolism and their spiritualist slant.

Of de Morgan’s other paintings, her “Hope in the Prison of Despair” (c.1887) (Fig.8) falls into the same category as the “Hope” pictures of Burne-Jones (see above) and Watts (see below), and her painting “The Angel of Death” (1880) (Fig.9) – with Death as a loving figure approaching a welcoming victim – certainly makes an interesting contrast to Millais’ “Time the Reaper” and Crane’s “The Mower”, mentioned above.

For a good account of the artist and her paintings generally, see Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body (2002); and Evelyn de Morgan Oil Paintings, compiled and edited by Catherine Gordon, with contributions by Andrew Michael, Judy Oberhausen and Patricia Yates, published by the De Morgan Foundation in 1996.

Gallery 3G – G.F.Watts.

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Though the boundary between the late Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists is blurred, George Frederick Watts seems to belong firmly with the latter.

Watts is famous today on two fronts – his portraits and his symbolist paintings. It is the latter that concern us here, a notable example of which is “Hope” (1885-6) (Fig.1), whose symbolism is dealt with in some detail in the notes to verse 14: basically, blind Hope is listening in expectation of a note from the single unbroken string on her lyre. Another notable example is his strange painting “The All-Pervading” (1887-90) (Fig.2), whose symbolism is even more obscure. The strangely distorted and hooded figure in the painting is effectively God – not the traditional image of God, but an image of the all-pervading motive force behind the Universe that many Christians had been forced into accepting by the advances in Science – notably astronomy, which, having dethroned the Earth from the centre of the universe and shown it to be merely one of nine planets orbiting an obscure star, which is one among millions of such – had made it increasingly difficult to accept the traditional image of God. The central globe in the picture is what Watts called “the Globe of the Systems” – not just the Earth, but the Universe, with its planets within solar systems, solar systems within stellar systems, and stellar systems within galactic systems. Curiously Watts gives ‘God’ traditional wings and encloses him in a traditional mandorla or almond-shaped halo, indicative of holiness. The painting therefore arises out a realisation of the insignificance of Man, an Omarian sentiment on a scale which modern astronomy had taken beyond anything that Omar himself could ever have dreamed of. Watts himself was a Deist – that is, he believed in a higher (“all-pervading”) presence behind the scheme of things, but subscribed to no particular theological doctrine concerning its precise nature. In fact, in 1875 he exhibited a painting “The Spirit of Christianity” (otherwise known as “Dedicated to the Churches”) (Fig.3) which sought to capture the basic unity of all Churches behind their often bitterly conflicting dogmas. The painting thus sought to promote religious tolerance. The dominant figure is, of course, Christ, but without his traditional halo, cross and accompanying angels – the human Christ of the likes of Strauss and Renan, in effect. The infants at Christ’s feet are the differing factions of the Church. The painting is thus a Christian parallel for the “jarring sects” of FitzGerald’s verse 43.

Watts’s most ambitious Omarian scheme was inspired by a visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome in 1844. His plan, on his return to England, was to completely fresco a huge purpose-built hall, after the fashion of the Sistine Chapel, but with paintings which would illustrate the theme of “The House of Life”. This ambitious project was to cover, symbolically, the evolution of man from the primeval chaos of creation to his present state, as well as the ever-present mysteries of the human condition – time, life, death, fate, purpose and so forth. The projected hall was never built, but the idea stayed with him throughout his life and resulted in many of his symbolist paintings like “Time and Oblivion”(1848) (Fig.4), “Life’s Illusions” (1849) (Fig.5), “Love and Death” (c.1870-75) (Fig.6) and its opposite number, “Love and Life”(1884-93) (Fig.7). Though the titles are clear enough, the symbolism used in these paintings is often almost impenetrable without the artist’s own comments to guide us. Taking  “Time and Oblivion” as a typical example, the unusual nature of Watts’ symbolism is immediately apparent in the figure of Time, depicted with a scythe as usual, but here, most unusually, a young man. Less obviously, the top left of the painting is illuminated by the Sun, whilst the bottom right is the darkness of Oblivion, personified as a mysterious figure whose face is hidden, but who draws a cloak over all things. The theme of the painting thus parallels “the nothing all things end in” of FitzGerald’s verse 47. “Life’s Illusions” is another good example of his often arcane symbolism. One would hardly guess that the nude figures dominating the left hand side of the painting represent aspects of Hope and Ambition, though the figure of a mounted knight chasing a bubble over a precipice is a clear enough symbol of the futility of pursuing earthly glory. Not so clear is “the aged student” (Learning) to the right of the knight, who is so engrossed in his book that he too is about to plunge over the precipice. Behind the Knight and the Student are two lovers (Love) and a child chasing a butterfly (Innocence), whilst the foreground is scattered with bones, gold coins, sceptres and crowns, representative of the ultimate futility of wealth and power. The theme of the painting thus has parallels in FitzGerald’s verse 14 (“the Worldly Hope men set their Heart upon”); verse 39 (“in infinite Pursuit of This and That endeavour and dispute”); and verse 47 (“the Nothing all Things end in”).

Ronald Chapman, in his book The Laurel and the Thorn: a Study of G.F.Watts (1945) gives the following overview of Watts’ interlinked paintings:

“Watts’ ‘message’ ran something like this: A good Spirit pervades the universe (“Dweller in the Innermost”, “The All-pervading”). It is, however difficult to prove anything and we must be tolerant (“Spirit of Christianity, to all the Churches”). This spirit seems to work in the world through evolution (“Progress”). We must remember this and learn to accept personal suffering which is the inevitable concomitant of Progress. All is for the best. Therefore aspire to great things (“Aspirations”), seek truth (“Sir Galahad”), hope when it seems hopeless – it isn’t (“Hope”). Remember love can help us along (“Love steering the Boat of Humanity”, “Love and Life”) and though death may seem to destroy love (“Love and Death”), this is not the case for love triumphs over death and time (“Love Triumphant”). Death is not to be feared. It is like a messenger (“The Messenger”) who leads us to a better land where all that is wrong here is put right.”  (p.148)

Though this overview is ‘neat and tidy’, I am not sure how valid it is, strictly speaking: the presence of “Sir Galahad” in the scheme seems a bit forced, for example. For another view of “The House of Life” see The Vision of G.F.Watts OM RA (1817-1904), edited by Veronica Franklin Gould (2004), p.24 & p.48. For comments on particular paintings, see p.15 (“The Spirit of Christianity”), p.23-24 (“Time and Oblivion”), p.77-8 (“Hope”), and p.89 (“The All Pervading”) For Watt’s own views on “The House of Life”, the primary source is George Frederic Watts, the Annals of an Artist's Life, the biography written by his wife, Mary Seaton Watts, and published in three volumes in 1912 – see in particular vol.1, p.101-105.

There is no evidence that in any of his paintings Watts was influenced by, still less directly inspired by, The Rubaiyat, and yet, like Millais, so many of his paintings are riddled with symbolism very much concerned with the same issues raised by Omar Khayyam. The poem is certainly not mentioned, for example, in the above-cited biography by his wife. Rather Watts seems simply to have been (independently) preoccupied with many of the same issues – or “eternal truths” as he called them – that also feature in the poem. (Many of his Omarian paintings, like “Time and Oblivion”, pre-date the publication of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat anyway.) Actually, Watts probably did know of The Rubaiyat very early on – he had certainly met both Rossetti and Burne-Jones well before the ‘discovery’ of the poem by the Pre-Raphaelites in 1861. His wife, Mary, in her biography, refers to one memorable dinner party in June 1858 at which she and her husband dined with Tennyson, Rossetti and Burne-Jones! (vol.1, p.160) But there seems to be no direct reference to The Rubaiyat in any written record to do with Watts before an entry in his wife’s diary for November 4th 1887, which simply says that their friend Geraldine Liddell had given them a copy of Omar Khayyam. (My thanks to Veronica Franklin Gould for this information.)

The image of Fig.4, "Time and Oblivion", is copyrighted by and courtesy of the Eastnor Castle Collection.

Gallery 3H – Elihu Vedder.

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Another artist worthy of note here is the American Elihu Vedder, famous for his drawings for the first illustrated edition of The Rubaiyat, published to great acclaim in 1884. Vedder had been a great fan of The Rubaiyat long before he did his 56 drawings to accompany the text, and FitzGerald’s verses were a great source of inspiration to him generally: he genuinely felt in tune with both Omar and FitzGerald. Consequently many of his paintings are Omarian in nature. Several, like “The Cup of Love”(1887) (Fig.1) are simply extended versions of his drawings for The Rubaiyat – compare the painting with the illustration to Vedder’s verses 46-48 (remember that Vedder re-numbered some of FitzGerald’s verses), which illustration bore exactly the same title (Fig.2). Again, “The Cup of Death” (1885) (Fig.3) is only slightly different from its corresponding illustration to Vedder’s verse 49, the illustration again bearing exactly the same title (Fig.4). Likewise, his painting “The Marriage of the Daughter of the Vine” (c.1890) (Fig.5) effectively runs together the illustrations for Vedder’s verses 59 and 60-61: the illustration to his verse 59 was entitled “The Daughter of the Vine” and that to his verses 60-61 “The Divorce of Reason.” (Fig.6)

Another of Vedder’s paintings worthy of note – this time quite independent of his illustrations to The Rubaiyat, though clearly related to a central theme of the poem – is “The Soul between Doubt and Faith” (c.1887, with a second version in 1899) (Fig.7), in which a troubled soul is being looked at obliquely and from behind (therefore invisibly) by the classically philosophical figure of Doubt and the youthful angelic figure of Faith. Vedder himself regarded this painting as one of his most significant works.

Finally, strikingly paralleled by Rossetti’s drawing of “The Sphinx” or “The Question”, mentioned above, Vedder produced two paintings entitled “The Questioner of the Sphinx” (1863 and 1875.) In the first (Fig.8), the questioner is young; in the second (Fig.9) the questioner is old. In both, a skull peers out from the desert sand, indicative of mortality. Of the figure kneeling before the Sphinx, Vedder wrote that he “asks to know the Great Secret of Life, but receives no answer except the devouring silence, solitude, and death that encompass him.” Whether there is any conceptual connection between Rossetti’s drawing and Vedder’s paintings, or whether the striking parallel is just coincidental, is not clear. Vedder was certainly a friend of several Pre-Raphaelites, and indeed had met Rossetti himself, albeit briefly. However, given what Rossetti said about the origin of his drawing, quoted in note 57c, and the great difference in format of the two, I am inclined to think that the parallel is just accidental. Incidentally, the Sphinx features in the illustration Vedder did for his verses 55-58 (Fig.10), describing it as “an all-devouring sphinx stretched over the remains of Creation”, indicative of “the destructive side of nature.” This image appears to be derived from his earlier painting “The Sphinx of the Seashore” (1879-1880.) (Fig.11) A sphinx also features as a minor detail in “The Marriage of the Daughter of the Vine” and the illustration to Vedder’s verses 60-61 – it is the ornamental top of the pedestal. Again, see the note on the sphinx in Gallery 3J below.

Fig.12 is the illustration referred to in Appendix 12h.

[For Vedder’s work, see Perceptions and Evocations: the Art of Elihu Vedder, with an introduction by Regina Soria and with essays by Joshua C. Taylor, Jane Dillenberger and Richard Murray (1979), principally Dillenberger’s essay (p.127ff) for The Rubaiyat drawings and paintings related to them; Taylor’s essay (p.58-61) & Dillenberger’s (p.146-7) for the Sphinx paintings. Regina Soria’s biography Elihu Vedder: American Visionary Artist in Rome, 1836-1923 (1970) is also very useful, particularly p.71-2 for his visit to London in 1870 and his contact with the Pre-Raphaelite world at that time, and p.110, 112 for later meetings with Watts and Burne-Jones. Her chapter 12 covers “The Rubaiyat of Elihu Vedder (1884-1889)”. As regards Vedder meeting Rossetti, in a letter to William Davies dated 29th (sic) February, 1878, Rossetti remembered "a rapid call I once received from him in company with a friend, possibly yourself, for it is long ago and I can call it to mind but imperfectly." Again, Rossetti's brother, William, in his diary entry for 25th July 1870, wrote: "Called to see Vedder's pictures and sketches. He is certainly one of the most talented American painters of whom I have any knowledge."]


It is interesting that so many of the above mentioned artists dwell on Love – its transience in the face of Time, or its power to transcend Death and so forth – something which does not really feature in The Rubaiyat, either in the original or in FitzGerald’s rendering of it. Compare the comments on the poetry of Rossetti, Swinburne and Morris in chapter 11 of the main essay.


Gallery 3I - A Note on Lilith.

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In Jewish demonology Lilith was originally a female demon of the night, who endangered women in childbirth (a demonic explanation of still-birth), strangled children in their sleep (a demonic explanation of cot death) and visited men in their dreams (a demonic explanation of erotic dreams.) In appearance she is supposed to have been a seductive woman with long hair and wings. Some say she was a vampire, others that the (seductive) Queen of Sheba was actually Lilith! According to Jewish legend, Lilith was created by God as the first wife of Adam, before the creation of Eve, but she left him when she found she could not enjoy full equality with her husband (an early demonic form of Women’s Lib!) God sent three angels to bring her back, but she refused, despite the threat that if she didn’t return, a hundred of her demon-children would die each day. Her nocturnal harming of children and pregnant women is by way of revenge for this. All the above and more can be found in the articles on Lilith in The Jewish Encyclopedia (1904), vol.8, p.87-8 and Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972), vol.11 (cols. 246-249), with a good account of Lilith as the first wife of Adam in Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1913), vol.1, p.65-6. Rossetti extended the legend of Lilith in his poem “Eden Bower”(1869) by having Lilith, out of hatred for Adam and Eve, come back to the Garden of Eden to persuade the Serpent to help her tempt Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus initiating the Fall of Man. Lilith persuades the Serpent to lend her his bodily-shape (“Lend thy shape for the shame of Eden !”) by promising him that she will become his lover in return (“Help me once for this one endeavour, / And then my love shall be thine for ever!) Though Rossetti never did a painting related specifically to “Eden Bower”, he did produce one little known and rather crude pen and ink drawing, showing the naked Lilith wrapped in the coils of the Serpent’s embrace (W.E.Fredeman, A Rossetti Cabinet (1991), plate 30, with commentary on p.5; J.B.Bullen, Rossetti: Painter and Poet (2011), p.214.) (Fig.1) The English artist John Collier filled the gap left by Rossetti, however – with gusto, though with a curiously un-erotic end-result! – in his painting “Lilith” (1887) (Fig.2), which was certainly inspired by “Eden Bower”. (See the notice of the Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition in The Athenaeum, 7th May 1887, p.613.) It is sometimes said that the female Serpent in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel representation of “The Fall” (Fig.3) is meant to be Lilith, since the Authorised Version of Gen.3.1 refers to the Serpent as “he”, as does Young’s Literal Version (though its sex is indeterminate in the Vulgate Version.) Since Lilith is much more a figure of Jewish lore than Christian, this is by no means certain, and a female Serpent may simply represent a sexist male view that anything as devious as the Serpent must surely be a woman! As Nathaniel Harris says in his book The Life and Works of Michelangelo (1995), “Compounding the misogyny of the Bible story in which Eve is the first to fall, Michelangelo has made the serpent a near-human female.” (p.27) A number of other artists depict the Serpent as female, for example, the Netherlandish Limbourg Brothers in “The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise” (1415-6), from the famous illuminated manuscript, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Fig.4 and Fig.5). (See, for example, Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting – its Origins and Character (1966), vol. 1, p.63-4 & vol.2, Plate 37, Fig.82.) It is possible that Rossetti got the inspiration for Lilith adopting the serpent’s form in “Eden Bower” from some such painting depicting the Serpent as part woman, though the similarity of his drawing to Blake’s “Temptation of Eve” (Gallery 7B, Fig.6), with which he was almost certainly familiar, is also suggestive of influence.

[According to Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfield & Alison Smith, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (2012), p.174, following Elizabeth Prettejohn, Rossetti and his Circle (1997), p.30, Rossetti got at least some of the inspiration for his painting “Lady Lilith” (Gallery 3B, Fig.3) from Goethe’s Faust (Part 1, Scene 21, lines 4119-4123), in which Mephistopheles describes Lilith to Faust thus (the translation is that from Shelley’s “Scenes from the Faust of Goethe”, published in Mary Shelley’s edition of his Posthumous Poems, in 1824):

She excels
All women in the magic of her locks;
And when she winds them round a young man’s neck,
She will not ever set him free again.

In Rossetti’s painting of “Lady Lilith”, her hair is prominently depicted, exactly as in the lines by Goethe. However, there is no mention of the Snake in Goethe’s Faust, so clearly there must have been some other source of inspiration to prompt the prominent snake theme both of his poem “Eden Bower” and of his pen and ink drawing.

Regarding the suggestion made above, of the possible influence of Blake on Rossetti’s drawing, his brother William Michael Rossetti, certainly catalogued Blake’s “Temptation of Eve”, under the title “Eve eating the forbidden Fruit”, as no.75g in his annotated catalogue of Blake’s paintings and drawings, appended to Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake (1863), vol.2, p.210. Since Dante Gabriel Rossetti was himself a fan of Blake (Doughty, as note 58b, pp.55 & 613) and also had a hand in the Gilchrist volume (Doughty pp.281 & 613), it is a fair bet that he was familiar with Blake’s illustration of “The Temptation of Eve.” See also W.M.Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer (1889) pp. 123 & 239-240 for Goethe’s Faust & the Talmudic legend behind Rossetti’s poem “Eden Bower”; and pp.144 & 170 for Blake & Gilchrist’s biography of him. It is interesting that W.M.Rossetti p.239 quotes the Lilith lines from Shelley’s translation, and that Swinburne, in his essay “Notes on Some Pictures of 1868”, quotes the same translation in his coverage of D.G.Rossetti’s painting “Lady Lilith”. Shelley, of course, was one of the Pre-Raphaelite idols.]

Fig.6 is another interesting depiction of Lilith by the American artist Kenyon Cox. This was published as one of 15 loose plates by various artists contained in a portfolio edition entitled American Illustrators. Accompanied by a text edited by F. Hopkinson Smith, it was published by Charles Scribner of New York in 1892. I have been unable to discover what inspired Cox’s unusual dual-level work, but the upper panel is clearly related to Figs 1 & 2, whilst the lower panel is clearly related to Figs 3 & 4.

Gallery 3J - A Note on the Sphinx.

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Most of us today associate the word sphinx primarily with the great Sphinx, near the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and secondarily with the story of Oedipus in Greek mythology. Most of us, too, are somewhat puzzled by the connection between the two. In the Oedipus story, the Sphinx terrorises the city of Thebes in Boeotia by posing riddles to the local inhabitants and devouring them when they fail to answer them correctly. Legend had it that the Sphinx would kill herself if anyone ever successfully answered one of her riddles, and, as is well known, it was Oedipus who succeeded in doing just that, by answering the riddle: what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at midday, and three legs in the evening. The answer was Man, who crawls on all-fours in infancy, walks on two legs as an adult, but needs a stick as a third leg in old age. As to the connection between the Sphinx at Giza and the sphinx in the Oedipus story, this is quite tortuous. In the first place it seems likely that the sphinx part of the Oedipus story is a secondary element of the story, added later, and not a primary one. (See Lowell Edmunds, The Sphinx in the Oedipus Legend (1981), p.1 & p.12-14.) The Oedipus story has merely become the most famous example of the Greek sphinx, and it is interesting to note that in it the riddle posed does concern the Life of Man, but that it was the Sphinx who asked the questions, not answered them, as in the Rossetti drawing and Vedder paintings mentioned above. However, in other non-Oedipal legends the sphinx is oracular, and answers questions put to her (see Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1955), p.207 & p.209), so Rossetti and Vedder have not ‘got it wrong’, as is sometimes suggested. As to the connection between the Sphinx of Giza (which is male and very ancient) and his Greek relatives (which are female and much less ancient), the form of the Egyptian sphinx diversified over time – some later examples are female and have the wings found on later Greek sphinxes, for example. The Egyptian image seems to have spread to Palestine and Mesopotamia, as well as to Crete, Cyprus and the Greek mainland, gaining other characteristics en route. (See Paul Jordan, Riddles of the Sphinx (1998), chapter 12, particularly p.199ff.) Having said all that, there is a curious connection between the Giza Sphinx and the riddle of the sphinx as posed in the Oedipus story, for on a stela between the paws of the Giza Sphinx there is an inscription referring to the Sphinx as Kheperi-Re-Atum, and these are the three names given by the ancient Egyptians to the infant Sun of the morning, the mature Sun of midday, and the ageing Sun of the evening. (Jordan, p.xviii & p.206-7.)

The question naturally arises as to how the Egyptian Sphinx came to get its oracular reputation in the first place, and the answer may lie in “The Sphinx Stela” (sometimes called “The Dream Stela”.) This is a huge red granite tablet, standing between the paws of the Sphinx, discovered in 1818. It purports to be a votive stela of the pharaoh Thutmose IV, recording how, in a dream, as a young prince, he had been promised the throne of Egypt by Harmakhis, the Sphinx, if in return he would clear the great image from the sands that were then beginning to engulf it. This dream he experienced as he slept at noonday in the shadow of the Sphinx, weary after hunting.

That this dream or vision entered into popular imagination is shown by the fact that in 1482 one Joos Van Ghistele, in setting down an account of his travels in Egypt, repeated a story he had heard about the Sphinx in which a young man had come to consult the ‘idol’. He had asked it “what would happen to him, and the head replied that he would become king and lord of Egypt.” As Jean-Pierre Corteggiani says, in his book The Pyramids of Giza: Facts, Legends and Mysteries (2007), “The story has too many points in common with that of Thutmose IV, engraved on the famous Dream Stela, for us to disregard the probable link with an oral tradition that would appear to have lasted for nearly three thousand years (despite the lack of other evidence).” (p.24) (For a full account of the Dream Stela – or Sphinx Stela, as he calls it – see J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (1906), vol.2, p.320-324. Breasted suggests that Egyptian priests may well have helped the story along “to enhance the reputation of the Sphinx” (p.321). Such a ploy, presumably, would have encouraged those ‘seeking advice’ to visit the Sphinx, and to make a suitable donation to temple coffers.)

In Gallery 3J, Fig.1 is a Greek vase-painting of Oedipus answering the Riddle of the Sphinx, and Fig.2 is another vase-painting of a Sphinx being consulted as an oracle – that is, an example of where the Sphinx must answer a question, not ask it. (These are from Harrison’s book, cited above, where more details can be found.) Fig.3 and Fig.4 are two modern depictions of Oedipus and the Sphinx, the first by Ingres (1808) and the second by Gustave Moreau (1864). Fig.5 is Gustave Doré’s strange painting “The Enigma”, painted in 1871 in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. According the notes of the Musée d’Orsay on the picture:

“At the top of a hill, strewn with bodies, there stands a sphinx….. In the distance, plumes of smoke rise up from a Paris set ablaze by enemy cannon. Under the dark sky, a winged woman, perhaps the embodiment of France seems to be asking the sphinx for answers. The sphinx appears to be compassionate, closer to the sphinx of Egyptian religion, guardian of the underworld, rather than the monster Oedipus came across in Greek mythology.”

Or perhaps the Sphinx is the monster of the Oedipus myth, the bodies being her victims? Compare Vedder’s painting “The Sphinx of the Seashore” (Gallery 3H, Fig.11), in which the Sphinx is the Destroyer (there, however, representing Nature rather than War – see the cited essay on Vedder by Dillenberger, p.146.)

For another use of the Sphinx in an illustration of The Rubaiyat, see Gallery 2A, Folder 1, Fig.7 (Edmund J. Sullivan.)

In the present Gallery I include two other Sphinx pictures of some interest.

Fig.6 is J.R. Weguelin’s painting “A Whispered Question”, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892 and used (for a reason which escapes but intrigues me) as the Frontispiece to S.G. Owen’s Catullus: with the Pervigilium Veneris (1893). Its title suggests that we have here another modern example of the oracular Sphinx.

Fig.7 is the Frontispiece to Part 3 of William Bell Scott’s poem The Year of the World; A Philosophical Poem on “Redemption from the Fall” (1846). I reproduce it here as this is the drawing which Scott thought Rossetti had plagiarised in his drawing, “The Sphinx or “The Question”, shown in Gallery 3B, Fig.4. See Doughty, as note 58b, p.664 and Scott’s Autobiographical Notes (1892), vol.2, 305-6 for full details.