Women in Romanticism

Though Romanticism was popular during Napoleon’s reign the subject gained more popularity during the 1800’s. Romanticism had references to literary sources, social criticism and had components such as emotional drama. “Romantic painting featured loose fluid brush strokes, strong colors, complex compositions, powerful contrasts of light and dark, and expressive poses and gestures.”(Stokstad, 946) Featured in most of these painting are women that create a softness and beauty within the paintings and sculptures. The paintings and sculpture featured here are all interconnected by the women featured in them and the romanticism used in each work. The women featured in romanticism always seem to be in a dream like state and have stories featured within the paintings creating backgrounds that make each painting have a deeper meaning than what is on the surface. Mythology and literary works were a major influence on romantic painters because of the romance and simplicity of the stories. Each story had different sources weather they be influenced by Shakespeare or by ancient mythology with emotional drama that added to each paintings back story . Not only did Romanticism have literary references it also had references to events happening at the time and other political criticisms. Painting that featured Napoleon and other political subject that had high contrasting color and high drama brought these subjects into the limelight of Romanticism.

Romantic paintings are also connected through the strong colors and loose brush work that is featured in each work. Using bright and dark colors bring more of a romance to the painting through the softness that the loose brush strokes bring to the bright colors. Some of the works also make references to other older works such as the Venus de Milo from ancient Greece. The paintings use references to the wrapped cloth around Venus, her dreamy gaze and the heavy portions that make the sculpture beautiful. (Stokstad, 177) The panting that references this sculpture most is Flaming June because the drapery and dream like state used in both works. One reoccurring feature in all these works is the use of a dream like state on all the faces of the women in each work. This and the contrast between dark and light connect these paintings into the category of romanticism. Each subject of these works has some kind of expressive gesture that connects them closer together. These gestures are mostly soft poses that create a wistful mood to each work.

The artworks that are included in romanticism have many interconnecting features that bring together different subject matter. Though there are many differences each painting has one of these identifying features such as a dream like state or dark and light contrasts. The difference between subject matter does not hinder the connections that all romantic works share. Though many different paintings are featured within this category, the works featuring women are more prominent because of the connection women have to love and mythology featuring love. Women have more of a spiritual connection with the subject of love and this is why they are featured in more romantic works then men.


The Venus De Milo is made of marble and was created in 150-125 B.C.E... The use of the s- curve and the slightly falling off drapery recalls a sense of womanhood and sexuality. The Venus De Milo is a world renowned sculpture that has been debated about for years. The sculpture was first excavated in 1820 and that is why it would have had influence on painters of romanticism because of all the publicity the sculpture was getting at the time. The debate about the sculpture’s arm is the most popular subject surrounding the Venus De Milo. Many have claimed that the artist never intended the statue to have arm and others claim that their were fragments surrounding the figure when it was unearthed, so there for it did have arm that held either a golden apple or a shield owned by Aries. (Stokstad, 177) Classical artworks such as the Venus De Milo have influenced many artists and works including an art work called Flaming June.


Flaming June was made in 1895 by Frederic Leighton. Flaming June was influenced by Michelangelo and Parthenon figures that featured drapery; he transformed these influences into a “rapturous evocation of sleep.”(Kemp, 310,335) This painting is included into romanticism because of the bright colors and lazy brush strokes that are stamps of this subject. Flaming June has a dream like state that is sensual yet serene at the same time. Both the Venus De Milo and Flaming June share the feature of a dream like state and the drapery used on the cloth the shrouds them both. Flaming June is part of the Romanticism movement because of the characteristics it shares with its counter parts such as Beata Beatrix.


Beata Beatrix was made in 1863 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In his life time Rossetti made many paintings that featured “women that projected an image of ethereal beauty.”(Kleiner, 700) This painting interconnects with romanticism because of the same use of a dream like state and the contrast between dark and light with in the painting. This is also a romantic tribute by Rossetti to his late wife (Elizabeth Siddal) who died of an opium overdose. The symbolism in this paining reference both death and love through the symbols of a red dove and a poppy. The use of death as a subject brings out the emotional drama used in romanticism which is also used in the painting Ophelia.


Ophelia was made in1852 by John Everett Milais. Millais tried to be as realistic as he could and he used actual models that would lie in a bath tube for long periods of time while he painted. His main model was actually Rossetti’s wife a friend of his and thanks to both the dedication of the artist and model the Painting was a great success. He also choose a spot he painted for the scene at Hogsmill River in Surrey in order to have a more realistic painting. Ophelia is a heroine created by Shakespeare and this painting is depicting “the drowning of Ophelia, who, in her madness, is unaware of her plight as she is carried down river.” (Kleiner, 699) This painting was influenced by the nature movements happening in Ireland at the time as well as romanticism. The smooth brush strokes and the dramatic theme make it a romanticism piece and the bright greens with only a few other hints of bright colors make this painting part of the Irish nature movement. The theme of death binds this closely with other paintings in the romanticism era.


Another painting that incorporates death is Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse which was made in 1896. This painting is about how Hylas is enchanted with the Nymphs and when one of the nymphs is captivated by his beauty she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him under. (Carr-Gomm, 35) The Painting shows the moment just before Hylas is brought under and how the nymph is mournful that he will die. The women in this picture have an ethereal beauty connecting them to other paintings such as Beata Beatrix and Flaming June. The soft brush stoked and the wistful looks on the nymphs connect this painting to romanticism and the women who bring the romance out of this painting with their ethereal beauty.


Another tragic drama scene used in romanticism is The Burial of Atala which was made in 1808 by Anne Louis Girodet. The Main plot of this painting (which sets this painting in romanticism) is that “Atala, sworn to life long virginity, falls passionately in love with a wild young savage of the Carolina wilderness.”(Tansey, 669) The painting features the scene where she is buried by her lover and a priest representing the holy church, under the shadow of a cross. (Tansey, 669) This is after she kills herself rather then breaking her vow of chastity. The themes of death and love have made this painting a staple of romanticism.

Women have become a major part of Romanticism because of their ethereal nature and the sensuality that they hold. The themes of love and death have become a staple for romanticism pieces. Also the use of dramatic color and loose brush stoke have become a staple of romanticism. Romanticism and women are connected through these themes and techniques that are used in romanticism paintings.

Work cited

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2005. Pearson Education Inc. New Jersey.
p.946,945, 177 178

Carr-Gomn, Sarah. Hidden Symbols In Art. “Hylas and the Nymphs, John William Waterhouse, 1896.” New York: Rizzoli International Publication Inc, 2001.

"The Era Of Revolutions: Daylight and Dreams.""Flaming June, By Frederic Leighton, 1895." The Oxford History of Western Art. Ed. Martin Kemp. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Kleiner,Fred S.; Mamiya, Christian J. "A Dual Portrait." " Beata Beatrix, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863." Gardner's Art Through The Ages (the Western Prospective) Ed. Sharon Adams Poore.
12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wodsworth Co., 2006.

Kleiner,Fred S.; Mamiya, Christian J. "A Shakespearean Heroine Drowned."
" Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1852."." Gardner's Art Through The Ages (the Western Prospective) Ed. Sharon Adams Poore.
12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wodsworth Co., 2006.

"Romanticism.""The Burial of Atala, by Anne Louis Girodet, 1808." Gardners Art Through The Ages. Ed. Horst de la Croix and Richard G. Tansey. 6th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1975.