Mariana by John Everett Millais, 1851
I first saw this painting in a local art gallery – up close and very person. Indeed I was a hair’s breadth away from the painting at one point, staring at the fine brushwork used to paint the eyebrows and hair. The silk velvet of her midnight blue gown is so exquisitely painted it’s as though real fabric has been used instead of paint.
Of course, everything in this painting is full of allegory, full of meaning, as was typical of pre-Raphaelite painters. The stained glass in the windows depicts a knight who has left for the Holy land on crusade – a soldier fighting for God’s cause – as is shown by the Madonna and the Angel in the other two windows. Mariana has waited and waited for her lord to return, her body aches with the ceaseless waiting and the endless work on her tapestry.
On the floor are fallen leaves – green, gold and copper, reflecting the tapestry she’s working on – but the leaves on the floor seem to signify fading hope, perhaps fading love with passing time. Her tapestry is nowhere near finished, yet the rolled up end is testament to the many hours she has spent working away on it – dutifully and practically employing her time until her love returns.
The wait seems endless, the seasons pass, the candle in the corner of the room burns lower, the light barely reaching into the darkest recesses. Yet still she stands by the window, hope not yet extinguished, the embers of love still burning somewhere in her heart, as fading light warms her soul before it turns towards dusk.