Artwork Related to Percy Bysshe Shelley
Below are links to photographs of artwork related to the life and writings of Percy Shelley.
Shelley died at age 30 in a boating accident; he drowned when his sailboat was caught in a storm. His close friend Lord Byron said Shelley was "without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew. I never knew one who was not a beast in comparison" (qtd. in Norton Anthology 646).
The idealization of Shelley as a martyr, a pure and beautiful soul now lost to the world, is illustrated in the following monuments created to commemorate his death. Compare features of Shelley's depiction in these works to qualities of the character Prometheus in Prometheus Unbound.
Weekes Monument This statue by H. Weekes (1854) depicts a female figure (possibly Shelley's wife Mary or a symbolic representation of the poetic Muse) holding the drowned body of the poet after the corpse has washed ashore. The striking resemblance of this statue to a pieta (statue of Mary holding Christ's crucified body) draws a definite connection between Shelley's ideals and the loving message of Christ; but as art historian David Piper notes, it's "a curious tribute to a notorious atheist" (163). We recall, however, that in Prometheus Unbound, Shelley uses several biblical allusions and symbols to create an analogy between Prometheus and Christ--both exemplify the redemptive power of love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice at the heart of Shelley's philosophy.
Ford Monument This beautiful and strangely erotic monument by Onslow Ford (1894) depicts the nude body of the drowned poet sculpted in white marble and lying atop a pedestal of marble and bronze. The perfection of the physical form is striking; and the pose, as one art historian has pointed out, is typical of monuments depicting young martyrs (Piper 164). Compare the character Prometheus to the depiction of the martyred poet. How could Prometheus be considered a martyr? Note that Shelley called Prometheus "the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends" (Norton Anthology 680).
Ironically, this monument now resides at University College, Oxford, from which Shelley was expelled for the scandal over his publication of an atheistic pamphlet.
Piper, David. The Image of the Poet: British Poets and their Portraits. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1982.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol 2, Sixth Edition. New York: Norton, 1993.
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