'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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor