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When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson's 'Mariana' (1830): 'She only said, ''My life is dreary, He cometh not'' she said; She said, ''I am aweary, aweary, I would that I were dead!'' Tennyson's poem was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure'. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, she leads a lonely existence in a moated grange.
The mouse in the right foreground is Tennyson's mouse that 'Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd, | Or from the crevice peer'd about'. The miniature altar in the background, decorated with a small triptych, and a silver casket, may refer to Tennyson's other poem on the same theme, 'Mariana in the South', in which Mariana prays desperately to the Virgin Mary. Millais may have intended the picture to complement Holman Hunt's 'Claudio and Isabella' (1850, Tate N03447), a scene also taken from 'Measure for Measure'. But as a subject from Tennyson the picture acquired a certain topicality, since Tennyson was made Poet Laureate in November 1850.
Further reading: Leslie Parris (ed.), 'The Pre-Raphaelites', exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1984, reprinted 1994, no.35, pp.89–90, reproduced p.90. Elisabeth Prettejohn, 'The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites', London 2000, pp.11–13, reproduced p.10, in colour. Frances Fowle December 2000
Oil on wood (mahogany)
59.7 x 76.2 cm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1999
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