What does "pre-Raphaelite" mean to you, when describing a woman?
November 1, 2011 2:07 PM   Subscribe

What does "pre-Raphaelite" mean to you, when describing a woman?

I'm a woman in my mid twenties. I've been described, on two totally separate occasions by two different people, as looking or being "pre-Raphaelite" (both times by men, if that matters). I've always wondered what exactly this term is generally understood to mean. I'm particularly interested to know people's initial off-the-cuff reactions about what "pre-Raphaelite" means, when applied to a woman, but I can provide more context about each occasion if the consensus is that that would be helpful.
posted by UniversityNomad to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Thick (physically, not mentally).
posted by availablelight at 2:09 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


It probably means that you have a lot of fair, wavy hair.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


To my mind, it means milky skin, auburn/red/ginger hair, and a somewhat curvy figure. A la Christina Hendricks.
posted by bcwinters at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Someone who looks like this. This ugly website describes "pre-Raphaelite" women.
posted by phunniemee at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ethereal, fairy-tale like. (not thick - that'd be Rubenesque to me).
posted by jquinby at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


errr. Do you have long flowing tresses and pale skin? I would use that to describe the kind of ethereal-but-sculptural looks the those guy liked so much. And their ladies were generally slight and slender, not thick.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2011


I think of the women in Rosetti's paintings. Fair, Romanesque profile, and yeah, lots of wavy hair. Not thick.
posted by Specklet at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: So just to pull together all that's been said, it's generally used as a physical descriptor, of a particular body/skin/hair type, rather than describing anything else (personality, manner, interests)?
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2011


There's a certain otherworldly intensity to women in pre-Raphaelite paintings. Like they're caught in the middle of some very intense thoughts or feelings, but they're reacting with an zen-like calmness.
posted by griphus at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Long, loose, curly/wavy hair, often red. Very clear, very pale skin. I'd tend to think more Felicity season one than Christina Hendricks. See millais' painting of Ophelia drowning.
posted by Diablevert at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pale, red hair, dreamy look in your eyes. Long nose.
posted by looli at 2:20 PM on November 1, 2011


also: do you look much like Elizabeth Siddall, or Jane Burden Morris, or maybe Fanny Cornforth? They showed up again and again in the paintings of the brotherhood, and are sort of the archetypical pre-Raphaelite women.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:20 PM on November 1, 2011


I used to visit the Delaware Art Museum and its excellent collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Consequently, I think of Pre-Raphaelite women as having: translucent skin, palely aglow; thick manes of wavy, auburn hair; strong jaws; piercing eyes; full lips and mouths; curvy, sensual body shapes; and an aura of otherworldly intensity. It's a lovely compliment to be considered among their ranks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Rubenesque" is the artistic euphemism for quite curvy, to my way of thinking. Pre-Raphaelite means pale, red haired, long-haired, ethereal, dreamy -- much less about body shape than overall looks. Not a personality-related comment, other than perhaps you have a general dreaminess.

It's a compliment.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


translucent skin, palely aglow; thick manes of wavy, auburn hair; strong jaws; piercing eyes; full lips and mouths; curvy, sensual body shapes; and an aura of otherworldly intensity

and occasionally floating in ponds.
posted by carter at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


The results you get when using google to search images with the term pre-raphaelite, are pretty close to how I think of it, a la what bcwinters says. Also, yes, this is correct: "generally used as a physical descriptor, of a particular body/skin/hair type".
posted by gudrun at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2011


It might only be me, but I have the connotation of renaissance faire-goers
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2011


Regal, wistful, tragic, distant. The archetypes are Ophelia, the Lady of Shalott, Beatrice, Guinevere, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
posted by Iridic at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2011


Response by poster: In case the context matters at all, the first time I was called this was in an entirely non-romantic context, by my teacher at boarding school when I was 16. His phrasing was that I had a "pre-Raphaelite look about [me]". The second time I was 20, at university, and it was in a Valentine from someone my age; the card had a pre-Raphaelite painting on it (La Belle Dame Sans Merci), and it was addressed "To a Pre-Raphaelite girl".
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:27 PM on November 1, 2011


Fair skin, lots of wavy hair, straight nose, full sensual mouth, strong jawline. Overall, I'd say there's a slightly androgynous and oversized quality to individual features, that blend in a pleasant, angelic sort of way, but they're contrasted with oceans of hair and a soft, feminine body.

It's definitely more of a physical description, but there's a certain distant melancholy that could be associated with it as well. It's the sort of term I would probably only attribute to someone who I thought of as an "old soul".
posted by Diagonalize at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2011


I have gotten this particular compliment before too - I think it means "pale skin, spacey demeanour." I'll take it, anyway!
posted by yarly at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2011


it's generally used as a physical descriptor, of a particular body/skin/hair type, rather than describing anything else (personality, manner, interests)?

Yes. Definitely a compliment.
posted by Specklet at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2011


I've got the perfect modern example: Florence from Florence and the Machine. Appearance, aesthetic and demeanor.
posted by dekathelon at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: So I have (see very chopped pic) very pale skin; hair that is past the shoulder and in loose curls, and sort of a reddish golden light brown that is fairly red when I do a henna gloss. I'm a medium build - sort of an hourglassy size 6-8, but pretty curvy - wouldn't call myself slender, but not thick either. I dress in a sort of Banana Republic meets Anthropologie way - boots, skirts, feminine, kind of middle-class cliched bohemian but nothing extreme or particularly notable. I'm (now) a grad student in the humanities, and I think we're all sort of spacey and/or melancholy :-) It sounds like from what everyone's describing that all this fits fairly well what is generally understood by the term?
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:35 PM on November 1, 2011


It means you're quite beautiful in addition to the specifics that have been said!
posted by michaelh at 2:38 PM on November 1, 2011


Response by poster: Sorry, one last question! I was interested in medieval literature (among other things) when I was first termed this at school, and the second time I was actually doing medieval studies at university (although I was never into Renaissance Faire/reenactment etc. stuff). Do you think this factored in, or do you think it is still mainly about appearance?
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:47 PM on November 1, 2011


What does "pre-Raphaelite" mean to you, when describing a woman?

Someone who's dividing women up into neat little columns for their own internal views of the world, which may not match reality.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:47 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh, I'm very jealous. I would love to be described as Pre-Raphaelite. :o)

Of all of Rosetti's paintings, the one that for me best encapsulates what I think is generally meant when someone describes a woman as Pre-Raphaelite is this one.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 2:48 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's your hair, plus pretentious academic type men trying to impress you. It's totally a big compliment, but I wouldn't over think where it's coming from.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Do you think this factored in, or do you think it is still mainly about appearance?

I think it could factor in, in the sense that people in that context could attribute different (more specific) qualities to the word 'Pre-Raphaelite' than the rest of us do. But in any case it certainly seems complimentary, and to my ear, refers, as others have said, to pale, milky skin and long, curly reddish hair.
posted by smilingtiger at 2:54 PM on November 1, 2011


Response by poster: Brandon Blatcher: That too! I guess I was partly wondering this question because I recently remembered that the first boy I dated at university said I had an "innocent and wholesome" look about me, and that was what attracted him most to me. I found this extremely unnerving at the time (Madonna/whore, anyone?) - and more creepy in retrospect even. And then I started wondering about the whole pre-Raphaelite thing, and whether that fed into a similar perception. Some sort of damsel-in-distress, medieval ravished virgin vibe that I'm somehow unconsciously giving off...?
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:56 PM on November 1, 2011


There's a group of painters known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Proserpine is one of my favorite paintings. Thick, wavy, flowing hair, flowing gowns, classic fairy tale themes, sculpted full lips. The paintings usually have rich, deep colors, and are rather romantic. Take it as a compliment.
posted by theora55 at 3:02 PM on November 1, 2011


You don't have be giving off anything. It could just be a few key things about your look that sets off certain bells in their head. Now those bells could be good or bad or neutral, but take the comments with the same grain of salt as if they said "You look like a Virgo" or whatever. Your physical looks are playing to conventions in their head.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2011


Flaming June. Curvy, red headed, fair, dreamy.
posted by elizeh at 3:05 PM on November 1, 2011


Interesting! I've been called pre-Raphaelite by several people, too, since I was a teenager, and I never quite knew what to make of it. For most of my life I've had waist-length wavy reddish-brownish hair, and I'm short and relatively curvy. I am waaaay pale with very dark eyes. I don't dress the part, though... I mostly wear outdoor clothes.
posted by Cygnet at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2011


I was told the same thing by my art history teacher, in a non-romantic context. I have very long, red/auburn hair and pale skin. In that time, I used a lot of long skirts and dresses. I think, apart from the hair/skin thing, it means you have a look out of this time. Your wardrobe, as you describe it, may have something to do with it too.
posted by clearlydemon at 3:22 PM on November 1, 2011


Seriously, I would bet a lot of money it's really just about hair.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:45 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What most of the people up-thread said:

- Long wavy hair, usually varying shades of red, but not always
- Varying body types, but not one extreme or the other
- Long straight nose
- Clear pale complexion
- Full curvy rosy lips

I'm also jealous of that description. I'd love to look like a Pre-Raphaelite woman rather than the Hobbit I resemble.
posted by deborah at 7:00 PM on November 1, 2011


What everyone else said. Specifically, it means you look a bit like Dante Gabriel Rosetti's muses Elizabeth Siddal or Fanny Cornworth (and, to a lesser extent, Jane Morris): pale complexioned, wavy red or fair hair, full mouth, and beautiful.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:03 PM on November 1, 2011


Well, I can tell from just that sliver of you, that you've got a pre-Raphaelite cast, but if you want to dig deeper and really over-think things, you should read John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman; there's a pre-Raphaelite turn towards the end which maybe gives some insight into the presumed character of a pre-Raphaelite woman.
posted by looli at 8:07 PM on November 1, 2011


Just wanted to mention that John William Waterhouse's paintings are also considered to be pre-Raphaelite, and one of the common themes in this style of painting is the "femme fatale" - so perhaps you have an intangible sense of the femme fatale about you in person, at least to men?

It definitely falls in line with the "long, wavy (possibly red) hair, pale complexion" look, possibly combined with a regal bearing or sense of melancholy emanating from within.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:10 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


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