Portraits of Byron
Byron was one of the most painted English writers. Consider how features of his portraits reflect characteristics of the "Byronic hero" persona created in Byron's poems (such as Manfred).
Portraits and Caricatures
The Corsair This portrait, painted in 1813 just after Byron achieved fame for his poem Childe Harold, depicts Byron in an Albanian costume he obtained on his early journey to the Middle East. Byron fictionalized his journey in Childe Harold and followed this poem with several "Oriental" poems featuring swashbuckling, piratical heroes. This link also includes an illustration from one of Byron's swashbucklers in which the Corsair, or pirate hero, appears in a costume almost identical to Byron's.
Don Juan This illustration for Byron's great poem Don Juan bears a remarkable resemblance to Byron portraiture, further suggesting the connection in the minds of the reading public between Byron's personality and the characters of his works.
Swimming the Hellespont This painting by Sir W. Allan depicts Byron resting after the physical feat of swimming the Hellespont described in "Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos." Notice the attention he pays to the maiden who serves him!
Byronic Hero This portrait was drawn by H. Meyer in 1816, the year that Byron left England forever due to the stigma attached to his incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. What features of the portrait can you relate to characteristics of Manfred as a Byronic Hero?
Byron's Death An imagined image of Byron's body lying in state, this unusual portrait by J. D. Odevaere was painted in 1826 to commemorate the poet shortly after his death during the Greek war for independence. The painting depicts Byron as a heroic martyr. His head is crowned with laurels (symbols of victory) while a lyre (symbolizing the music of poetry) lies beside him with broken strings. The words inscribed on the bier beneath him are titles of his poems surrounded by laurel wreaths. Critic David Piper called this image "positively Napoleonic."
Byron Caricature A cartoon satirizing Byron at the time he abandoned England following his scandalous affair with his half sister, this caricature ruthlessly attacks the Byronic hero type as a melodramatic exaggeration.
Pre-Raphaelite Paintings Related to Manfred
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an association of Victorian painters formed in London in 1848 and led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The influence of the Brotherhood on the style and content of English art lasted throughout the Victorian Period and into the early years of the 20th century.
The Pre-Raphaelites strove to return to a more realistic style of portraying natural settings and human subjects, and their paintings are known for their lush imagery and meticulous attention to detail. They often turned to literature for the subject matter of their art. Medieval legend, Shakespeare's plays, and the works of the Romantic poets (including, of course, Byron) provided the inspiration for many Pre-Raphaelite works.
Below are two Pre-Raphaelite paintings related to characters from Byron's Manfred.
1877 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Manfred's sister is named after Astarte, the Syrian goddess of love, who was known for both her kindness and her cruelty. Art historian Edmund Swinglehurst speculates that in this painting of the goddess, Rossetti is "saying something about the theme of unrequited love" (34), a theme that is also significant in Byron's poem. The model for the painting was Jane Morris (the wife of Pre-Raphaelite artist William Morris) with whom Rossetti had a tormented love affair.
Manfred on the Jungfrau
1842 by Ford Madox Brown
This painting depicts Byron's Manfred preparing to throw himself from the Jungfrau mountain to his death. The horrified Chamois Hunter approaches in the background. Consider how Manfred's expression and appearance, the depiction of the Chamois Hunter, and the isolated setting reflect the Gothic motifs we have discussed in class (madness, doubles, psychologically symbolic settings, etc.).
Piper, David. The Image of the Poet: British Poets and their Portraits. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1982.
Swinglehurst, Edmund. The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites. New York: Shooting Star P, 1994.
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