09 July 2010

The Pre-Raphaelite Visage

Having discussed hair styles, I thought it might be fun to turn to cosmetics. Many Victorian-era stunners, especially those from the middle class, likely had little use for makeup, if any, but by the arrival of the Belle Epoque, cosmetics were moving from the world the theater and the streets into the drawing room, as Max Beerbohm coyly predicted in his "A Defence of Cosmetics."  His article was "an ironic defense of Decadence," and focuses more on how he, Beardsley and other decadents wryly viewed the growing commercialism of the age and objectification of women.  However, he is prescient in his statement that "Cosmetics are not going to be a mere prosaic remedy for age or plainness, but all ladies and girls will come to love them."  Granted, not ALL women or men love cosmetics, but they are certainly more acceptable today than they once were. And I'm sure those Aesthetes who still revered the Pre-Raphaelites and were embracing Symbolist mystery and glamour were not above darkening their eyes with kohl and staining their pallor to evoke the more sinister elements of Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist imagery: sirens, witches and merciless ladies.

The prevailing visage in actual PRB works of art is artless and pure, with the frame of hair often surrounding the face, emphasizing the natural beauty of the sitters' features.
"The Beloved- Study for African Girl" Dante Gabriel Rossetti

And more often than not, when an article or sound byte mentions a "Pre-Raphaelite" look, they refer to softly tinted lips and cheeks, or a subtle "glow." It is a look that works for many, and is definitely an easy "go-to", day to day style.

There is no doubt that such lovely works of art lend themselves to marketing ploys, too! I remember that sometime ca.1994 - ca.1996, I bought my first Prescriptives item because a magazine blurb described it as giving the wearer a "Pre-Raphaelite glow." Is Beerbohm turning in his grave? It was a great little item, and I wish I still had it, though I have forgotten the name. It was shaped like a lipstick and came in a tube, but was a (very) barely-tinted, almost translucent cheek stick that you could use alone or on top of blush.  A more recent product that sounds tempting to me is "Medieval," by Lipstick Queen.

Musicians and style icons Florence Welch and Tori Amos embrace a more modern and cutting edge interpretation of Pre-Raphaelite beauty that is equally enticing.

If you would like to see a "look-book" featuring PRB-inspired makeup from the Anna Sui Fall 2008 line, you can check it out here, courtesy of Cover Girl Cosmetics.


  1. I so enjoyed reading this and seeing the visuals - a fantastic and inspiring post.

    That "Medieval" lipstick is destined to be mine:)

  2. I love makeup, I just wish I were better at applying it on my eyes. I adore that picture of Claudia, and Tori always looks fantastic. Yay makeup!

  3. L, me, too! I really want to try that!

    J, I hear you. I pretty much always do the most simple eye (and simple everything, really) as I just can't seem to master more dramatic looks. It's fun to play, though :-)

  4. It's funny, the cover girl link was with Pat McGrath, who was/is Tori's longtime makeup artist & friend!

    LOVE that first image, so pretty and feral at the same time.

  5. Jen, how cool! And what a lovely job that would be! :-)