Redheads and Rebellion

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are an infamous band of artists with an unnatural obsession with redheads.  Believing that the purest beauty was found in the aroma of virgins with copper hair they set about killing and distilling this scent to make a perfume that they could use to become gods amongst men.

Wait a second, I think I’m getting my stories crossed here…

But anyway the point is that the Pre-Raphaelites were pretty badass and there is definitely something going on between them and redheaded beauties, and the newest exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria wants to find out what that is.

Medieval Moderns is a great opportunity for visitors to see the NGV’s outstanding collection of works by the Brotherhood and their close associates.  Including art and design this exhibition highlights the idea of a total work of art which was embraced by this movement.  One room particularly captures this feeling, and that is the wallpapered room, decorated with William Morris’ beautiful medieval inspired prints and including furniture, paintings, photography and books, it really gives you a feel for the way that all these elements enhance and complement each other when seen as they should be, together, as a total work of art.


Francis Bedford, Tintern Abbey, 1860s (1859 – c.1868).

So what were the Pre-Raphaelites about if not killing virgins for their perfume?

The Pre-Raphaelites were disillusioned by the industrial revolution and idealised the time before The Enlightenment, pre-Raphael, Medieval times.  They rebelled against the conventions of art and society, and despite looking backwards their art was distinctly Modern.  This exhibition shows their interest in Medieval subjects, settings, designs and architecture. This emphasis can be seen in the exhibition design, with gothic arches leading you from room to room. Particularly beautiful are the many photographs of crumbling Medieval ruins which are scattered throughout the exhibition, including examples by Francis Bedford and Henry Peach Robinson.

If, like the Pre-Raphaelites themselves, you find yourself fantasising about a bygone era where life was lived simply, romantically and with integrity, I recommend this exhibition.  And if by the end of it you’re obsession with Medieval times is not quenched I recommend wondering upstairs to check out some of the Medieval art that influenced the Brotherhood.  If all you can fantasise about is the allure of a sweet scented, auburn haired beauty, I recommend you read Perfume.

Medieval Moderns: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

NGV International

11 April – 12 June 2015

Patrick Suskind, Perfume: A Story of a Murderer, 1985.


3 thoughts on “Redheads and Rebellion

  1. I agree! The Pre-Raphaelites were very interested in fairy tales and poetry. The painting, The Princess Out of School, is based on John Keats’ epic poem Endymion, but you can bet he was also thinking of other fairy tales too!


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