HumanitiesWeb.org - "Ophelia" by Sir John Everett Millais [Selected Works]
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Site last updated
26 June, 2013

Ophelia

  Buy now from allposters.com1851-52: Tate Gallery, London

Millais spent four months painting the background vegetation for this recreation of Ophelia. The exquisite flowers floating on the surface of the water are not simply decorative and naturalistic; they were carefully chosen for their traditional symbolic meanings:

Poppies: Death
Daisies: Innocence
Roses: Youth
Violets: Early death
Pansies: love in vain
Fritillaries: Sorrow

Some of these, and some of the other flowers Millais includes, are referred to in Act IV scene v of Shakespeare's tragedy, in which Ophelia recites the names of flowers she has been gathering: There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that's for thoughts...There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o'Sundays: O, you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end, --

After finishing the background, Millais returned to London to paint his model, Elizabeth Siddal, posing in a bath full of water.

See also: fellow Pre- Raphaelite Arthur Hughes' visions of Ophelia.

 
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