'Phallic symbols' found hidden in famous Pre-Raphaelite painting 'Isabella' by John Everett Millais

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

The Pre-Raphaelites are to be re-examined in a new blockbuster show at Tate Britain - and experts have uncovered a dirty secret that may shake up the traditional image of the Victorians as prudes.

One of the works on show at the exhibition, which opens tomorrow, is the first painting by John Everett Millais as a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood he helped found, called Isabella. One Tate curator has uncovered a hidden image in the painting which shows a character in the foreground with what appears to be an erection.

Isabella, painted in 1848 when Millais was just 19 years old, will force people to “shove aside their preconceptions” and “dramatically changes the way we see the work,” Carol Jacobi said. “It gives us a different view of the Victorians.”

The painting shows the character in the foreground on the left angrily leaning forward, with his leg outstretched and using a nutcracker. The sexual suggestion is produced by a shadow on the table.

Dr Jacobi said: “The shadow is clearly phallic, and it also references the sex act, with the salt tipped into the shadow,” before adding: “We can assume it’s deliberate, so then that raises the question: what’s it there for?”

It is also believed that the nutcracker and the character’s extended leg are also phallic references. She added: “This idea of one set of Victorian values is totally set aside. It was just like now; it was a society undergoing a dramatic transformation,” adding: “There was a bohemian part of society and the Pre-Raphaelites were on that side. They were experimental with lifestyles as well as art.”

Millais was the “golden boy” of the Royal Academy, she said, adding the sexual reference “is an example of how incredibly innovative and courageous” the artist was. “Once you have seen it, you can’t understand how people could miss it. The sexual imagery shows a wider engagement with what it is to be a physical human being. And an engagement with that was hugely problematic.”

“This is not a Freudian slip, or a hypocritical, furtive innuendo,” she said. “The imagery of masturbation and the anxieties around it and being unable to control yourself sexually would have been well known.”

Dr Jacobi is to publish a paper on the subject next month called Sugar, salt and curdled milk; Millais and the synthetic subject. She said the image of a salt cellar, which is also phallic, runs through a number of the artist’s paintings.

She argued that the image may not be as shocking as we may expect. “This sort of image would have been very familiar to Victorian men, not in painting maybe but the popular medical discourses of the day. Particularly discourses that warned against overindulgence, and self-abuse as they saw it.”

Isabella, which is on loan from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, is a reference to the poem by John Keats, Isabella or the Pot of Basil, itself adapted from Boccaccio’s Decameron.

The Pre-Raphaelites were formed in 1848 as part of a stand against the art establishment of their day, inspired by early Renaissance paintings. The Tate exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is the largest survey of the group for over 25 years.

It will show over 150 works from leading members of the movement which also include Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. The well-known painting of Ophelia by Millais is also on display.

Both Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, are fans of Pre-Raphaelite artists and have lent works to the exhibition from their private collections.

It is the first time in over 60 years that a painting of The Lady of Shalott by William Holman Hunt is to be shown in the UK, while embroideries made for William Morris’ bed are on display for the first time outside Kelmscott Manor.

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention