Tuesday, November 17, 2009

between the threads

Coming across this steampunk picture by digital illustrator Melanie Delon, I was suddenly reminded of the Lady of Shalott:



This image shows a (cracked?) mirror that looks into another world, separate from that of the woman sewing.  Thread is wrapped around between her legs, entwining her.  If she stood up and tried to walk right now, she'd trip and fall on her face like a cartoon character, and we'd all laugh heartily at her expense.  So why does this remind me of the Lady of Shalott?

Because I strongly suspect that Delon got her inspiration for this piece from two Victorian painters who depicted the Lady of Shalott in a similar fashion.

First take John William Waterhouse's 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot:



This scene captures the Lady at the fatal moment when she turns to look at Lancelot and her mirror cracks, bringing the curse upon her.  Golden thread is wrapped around her legs as well, making me ponder momentarily how she managed to fully turn to look at Lancelot without falling like Elmer Fudd.  She is caught in the world of her own making, symbolized by her weaving and the numerous balls of thread around her.  But the freedom she gains in the act of looking at Lancelot will soon free her from the restrains of the thread.

Waterhouse painted two other Shalott scenes, including the Lady in her boat (which I posted when I first began talking about the Lady of Shalott two days ago.)

Then there's William Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott, painted in 1860:



This one is by far the weirdest, yet most fascinating, at least in my opinion.  The painting depicts the Lady, apparently after she has looked at Lancelot, for the mirror seems to be cracked.  Her hair is literally flying upwards, as if it was not bound by the laws of gravity.  The threads of her weaving reality, however, are wrapped so tightly around her and she appears to be trying to pull them off to no avail.  According to a Wikipedia article on The Lady of Shalott:

...[Tennyson] took Hunt to task for depicting the Lady caught in the threads of her tapestry, something which is not described in the poem. Hunt explained that he wanted to sum up the whole poem in a single image, and that the entrapment by the threads suggested her "weird fate".

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