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Pre-Raphaelite Female Imagery in Spanish American Poetry Patricia Varas Much has been written about the influence of French literature on the Spanish American literary movement of the nineteenth century , Modernismo. The Spanish criticJuan Valera in his "Prologue" to Rubén Darío's seminal???, ... referred to the "Parisian spirit" (41) that pervaded the book and called it "mental gallicism" (62).1 Yet, although we know that the Nicaraguan Darío and the Colombian José Asunción Silva much admired the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (Saporta Sternbach 38), litde has been said about it as a source of Modernista inspiration. Perhaps this oversight is due to the fact that it is not known which Pre-Raphaelite paintings or writings influenced the Modernistas and that Pre-Raphaelitism is an English artistic movement that started earlier than Modernismo, which began around 1880 and continued into the early twentieth century. These two artistic movements, however, share several characteristics that point toward a unity of taste, which is articulated with a preference for details that fill the canvas and a richness of language that pervades the page, and a conspicuous common attitude toward woman. In this essay I will compare the representation of woman in a poem by Darío, "Ecce Homo" (1885), with the female imagery of one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's female portraits, Bocea Baciata (1859). Darío's poem belongs to the early part of Modernismo, when aestheticism and decadentism predominated. When Darío praises Rossetti as the "exquisite Pre-Raphaelite" in his essay on "Max Nordau" (1905) (171), he reveals an admiration for the artist and the Pre-Raphaelites and acknowledges that they share as leaders of their movements the 72volume 30 number 1 Pre-Raphaelite Female Imagery language of Symbolism through which they articulate their iconic attitude towards woman. Spanish American Modernismo is a literary movement that brought to completion the cultural independence of the region. By bringing together the word pregnant with the connotations of Symbolism with the precision and passion for form of Parnassianism, Modernismo gave form to Spanish America's feelings and ideas, and at the same time revolutionized the metric and language of Spanish literature. Modernismo should not be confused with English Modernism or with Brazilian Modernismo, which appeared after the crisis of the turn of the century and are similar to Spanish American vanguardism in their concerted effort to break with tradition, to search for new forms, values, and themes with which to express the alienation and despair of the individual. Under the influence of Modernismo, the Spanish American artists eagerly caught up, in forty years, with one hundred years of European literature. As the Mexican poetJosé Emilio Pacheco sustains, Modernismo's original explosion in the Spanish American letters takes place in "a moment of universal circulation of ideas and styles" (xi). Yet, there is a common Weltanschauung shared by the movements that points toward a predetermined desire by the Modernistas to emulate the English brotherhood with which the Spanish American poets identified. Modernismo identified with the sensualism and metaphysical quest found in the Pre-Raphaelite symbolic depiction of woman. Both movements lovingly depicted women as objects of their devotion while capturing their mysterious and enigmatic side; misogynist feelings and fear of women imbued their work. Their repetitive poses capture an abstraction filled with ambiguous meaning and with the artist's need to see himself as the owner of the image, which is an object of his gaze and artistry. The woman the Modernistas chose to represent "seemed to emphasize negative aspects of womanhood" despite her beauty (Saporta Sternbach 44). The same sentiment is found in Rossetti's portraits, where he toned down the models' feaVictorian Review (2004)73 P. Varas tures and conflated several women's faces into a composite of stereotyped physical aspects that contained for him sexual allure, such as the rosebud mouth, the sweeping curve of the neck, and the sensuous and ethereal expression (Casteras 16). This yearning sensuality was deeply disturbing for the public. In Rossetti's work we can perceive a tension between the contradictory iconography of "blessed damozels and merciless ladies" (Praz 49), who allegorically represent polarized values of good and evil. Even more, in Pre-Raphaelite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 72-91
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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