Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Spear (c.1856-59). Watercolor on paper. Tate Gallery.
Clerk Saunders, Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Spear, and other works by Siddal helped to redirect the Pre-Raphaelite movement to a medieval theme during the second half of the 1850s (Prettejohn 183). Medieval themes included scenes of chivalry, the knight’s quest, and courtly love (Prettejohn 185). Siddal also led the way for developing distinctive Pre-Raphaelite themes of sorcery, enchantment, and spell-casting. The distant era of daring deeds, supernatural appearances, and star-crossed lovers were also attractive concepts (Prettejohn 184-185).
She was an avid reader, inspired by romantic poetry of John Keats and William Wordsworth, as well as more recent poems by Alfred Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was fascinated by border ballads, more specifically “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” complied by Walter Scott (which was the literary reference for Clerk Saunders too) (Prettejohn 184-185).
Siddal was also inspired to write poetry; she sketched an illustration for The Lass of Lochroyan. The heroine was portrayed as an outcast who follows the enchantment of her lover, and is then branded as a witch (Prettejohn 185).
Now, back to Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Spear.
Within the painting, the lady assists the knight with his pennant before he heads out for combat. To his left, his horse and squire await in the doorway. This subject was common for the time it was painted; see Rossettie’s Before the Battle (MFA, Boston), Millais’ At the Tournament (Ashmolean), and Burnes-Jones The Knight’s Farewell (Ashmolean). This period was marked with a desire for intensely worked court scenes (Marsh and Nunn 117).
Edward Burne-Jones. The Knight’s Farewell.
The ultimate inspiration for all of these works was Maclise’s “Spirit of Chivalry” (1845-7) for the Palace of Westminister and was widely distributed through engravings (Marsh and Nunn 117). In Siddal’s watercolor, she treats the scene in almost a domestic way. The knight fiddles with his hammer and nail and the lady awkwardly embraces him (Marsh and Nunn 117). This gives me two reactions; one where they are all about business and there isn’t emotion because they are focusing on the task at hand. On the other hand, I could also see it as the lady showing her support and affection in what must be a scene filled with tension. The knight is about to go into battle and it is uncertain if he will survive. In comparison to Burne-Jones The Knight’s Farewell, Siddal’s painting lacks the passionate embrace between lady and knight.
Elizabeth Siddal. Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Spear.
The red of the pennant symbolizes Love and fills in the space between the two figures. Even though the scene is in an enclosed space, it has a quality of openness because of the open window and door, allowing the viewer’s eye to travel outside. The distant hills may be inspired from the Peak District, where Siddal visited in 1857/8 (Marsh and Nunn 117).
Philip Burne-Jones owned the work in 1904. The Tate Gallery then purchased it in 1912 and acquired it in 1917. Unlike most of Siddal’s other work, this painting was given a descriptive title for convenience, and not one with a literary or poetic one (Marsh and Nunn 118).
“Daniel Maclise Paintings”. Teppai Art. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6DH938zOHGc/UJ5xJ2SB-AI/AAAAAAAAGmw/0mc_l9Er6Zk/s1600/Maclise_Daniel_The_Spirit_Of_Chivalry.jpg
“Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Spear”. Tate. Aug. 2004. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. Web. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/siddal-lady-affixing-pennant-to-a-knights-spear-n03202
Marsh, Jan, and Pamela Gerrish Nunn. “Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists”. London, Thames and Hudson: 1997. Print.
“Pre-Raphaelites: The Poetry of Drawings”. The Telegraph. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/8296065/Pre-Raphaelites-The-Poetry-of-Drawing.html?image=7
Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites. New York, Cambridge University Press: 2012. Print.
“Rossetti, Dante Gabrielle”. All Art Biz. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. http://allart.biz/photos/image/Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_55_Before_the_Battle.html#!/exjun_