Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at Tate Britain

12 September 2012 – 13 January 2013


I first became interested in the Pre-Raphaelites in 1980, when I read “The French Lieutentant’s Woman” by John Fowles.  So when in 2009 there was a television series entitled “Desperate Romantics” based on the book by Franny Moyle, my interest was re-ignited, and I wrote a blog entitled “The Pre-Raphaelites – A Soul Group”.  I intended to write about all the Pre-Raphaelites, and still do, but going to the Tate Britain Exhibition has at least enabled me to write this second blog on the subject.

Notes from an Exhibition

Oh!  The beauty hits you at the first picture. [“Astarte Syriaca” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.]

“Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon
Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen
Ere Aphrodite was” ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Exhibition feeds the mind with all sorts of interesting facts – a rich seam of knowledge, sights and experiences.  I especially felt warm and fuzzy in the William Morris room, replete with furnishings and objects in his distinctive style.
It feeds the heart, too: A lot of hugging goes on in their pictures, a heartwarming vibe, though some seem to be cradle the dying…

Of all the artists, on this occasion I particularly noticed the detail and sensitivity of Ford Madox Brown’s work: the wall notes endorsing his “sharp drawing and colours”.  My favourite picture in the exhibition turned out to be painting by Brown, and as it turned out husband Mike’s favourite picture too was painted by Brown, though a different masterpiece.

John Ruskin

I had intended to write about Dante Gabriel Rossetti first, but out of my mind’s eye stepped Ruskin.  Fittingly so, for his vision and patronage are like the drawstring that pulls the group all together.

Ruskin had Sun rising in Aquarius (very creative though inflexible).  He had several sets of conjunctions, which connect together, which may account for his high intelligence and wide-ranging consciousness.  Mercury/Mars/Jupiter sextile Saturn/Pluto/Chiron (a triple sextile) enabling him to make intricate connections in his mind.  However, the Saturn/Pluto/Chiron squares his Uranus/Neptune/Venus, creating a cacophony of clashing vibrations.  The Mercury/Mars/Jupiter combination opposes the Moon/Part of Fortune.

The Critic Archetype

John Ruskin was by trade an art critic, and he has the Critic Archetype in his birthchart, in the form of Mercury conjunct Mars. This faculty is complicated by the hypersensitivity of having an opposition from Moon in Cancer (to the Mars/Mercury).  Having Mercury conjunct Mars sets the nerves on edge, but the opposition is like the equivalent of a female permanently having pre-menstrual tension.  As you’ll see later, his psychopathology is deeper.

In the Thames and Hudson book on the Pre-Raphaelites, Tim Hilton writes of his intensely critical faculty:

“Claude, Poussin, the classical masters of the landscape tradition, the religious painters of the High Renaissance (especially ‘the clear and tasteless poison of the art of Raphael’), the genre painters of the Dutch school were all therefore to be execrated.  In “Modern Painters” [Ruskin’s early published work] they are criticized with some vehemence, not as a man might kick away the curs that snap at his heels, but exhaustively, at great length, with every rhetorical device and every instrument of castigation.  Hardly any of the schools of European painting between the Renaissance and the Romantic era escapes this devastating onslaught.”

North Node and Karmic Mission

Ruskin’s North Node, representing his karmic mission, is in his 3rd House trine exactly Uranus, indicating that he heads up a brilliant milieu.  In addition, Mercury exactly squares the Nodal Axis, and I find that where a planet squares the Nodes that person acts as a co-ordinator for a group, sometimes the Soul Group.  In this case, the planet being Mercury (which adds to his general nervous tension), enables Ruskin to act in the role of a teacher or mentor to the group.  In my 2009 blog I have written more about the karmic entanglements of the Moon’s Nodes within the group.


Michael Robinson writes in “The Pre-Raphaelites”: “Ruskin and Oxford were inseparable, even though their relationship was difficult at times.  As an undergraduate, although he had won prestigious prizes for his drawing and poetry, he was always an outsider and had to leave his studies on hold after suffering a mental breakdown when he was only 21.”

In that year, Ruskin will have had Saturn square to his Saturn, though it affects people differently and undoubtedly was instrumental in the stress at that time.

In the book “Touched with Fire” by Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, she notes that at one time Ruskin was considered to have schizophrenia but she diagnoses bi-polar syndrome:

“Bizarre behaviour, once thought to be much more characteristic of schizophrenia, is now recognized as a frequent component of mania as well.  Many artists and writers described by some earlier biographers as schizophrenic – for example Ruskin, Schumann, Strindberg, Woolf,  Pound, Poe, Artaud, Dadd, and Van Gogh – would not be classified as such today”.

This is borne out astrologically.  He has the mania (Jupiter conjunct Mars) plus the depression (Saturn conjunct Pluto and Chiron in Pisces).  In addition, he has a very highly-strung conjunction of Uranus and Neptune, which sensitizes his nervous system to an acute degree.  These individual features may be present singly in a chart, but to have all of these is high pressure for the holder of one birth chart to maintain balance.

The Loves of John Ruskin

In his birthchart, the closest partner to the planet of love Venus, is Neptune.  This liaison speaks of impossible idealism, a phrase which summed up his relationships.  His first emotional attachment was to Adele Clothilde Domecq, daughter of his father’s business partner.  This love was under-aged (about 15) and unrequited.

The second relationship, which led to marriage but non-consummation, was to Effie Gray.  Their marriage took place on 10/4/48, the date where Franny Moyle’s book takes up the story, in a time period embryonic to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  At this time, Pluto was square to Ruskin’s Mars, setting him a psychosexual challenge, which proved impossible for him to meet.

In the Summer of 1853 Effie and John Ruskin took a holiday in Scotland, accompanied by one of Ruskin’s artistic protégés, John Everett Millais.  Effie and John fell in love and were later to marry.

After 6 years of marriage, on 26/4/54 Effie served an annulment on Ruskin.  Uranus was trine her Mars (taking the advantage of a surprise action).  The transiting North Node trine her Uranus (surprise element in her favour).

John Ruskin’s third significant love, Rose La Touche, was 9 when he met her on her birthday, and the age gap always caused consternation in their circles. At this time, Neptune was conjunct the North Node suggesting the impossibility of the relationship, Pluto was conjunct Jupiter, transiting Jupiter was trine Ruskin’s Venus, and transiting Mars was square to his Moon.

Over the course of many years they met, fell in love, fell out, suffered many misunderstandings and dramas, and attempted interventions from friends and relatives.  This was the story of their relationship, Rose ever unattainable to Ruskin, and the emotions messing with his already delicate mind drove him to despair and mental instability.

In October 1863 – at 15 years old Rose herself suffered a nervous breakdown, for she too was delicate of mind.  According to Franny Moyle, she “sank into mental fragility”.

On 3/1/1866, Rose’s 18th birthday, there was a reunion of sorts, at a family dinner out.  On this occasion, the Sun was conjunct Jupiter, Venus was conjunct Mars (reunions) and  Mars was conjunct Mercury.  Mars was conjunct Ruskin’s Neptune, firing his imagination.

Meetings often revolved around Rose’s birthday.  In January 1866 Ruskin proposed to Rose and was told to ask again in 3 years when she was 21. This pattern went on, and much of the relationship was conducted in the imagination.  Eventually they both suffered greatly through illness.

Rose died in 1875 in a Dublin nursing home, and Ruskin never recovered, also taking to Spiritualism in an effort to contact her.

Ruskin’s Art

Ruskin himself was a fine painter, and I find his drawings exquisite.  They seem to come more from the refinement and sensibility of his Uranus-Neptune conjunction than from the technical skill of his Mercury conjunct Mars.
His doctrine of fidelity to nature (which in his art theory he called ‘ truth to nature’) inspired much of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites early in the movement. Later some of them changed course towards a cult of beauty, but others continued to adhere to the original ideals.

Giles Fraser (the ex-Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral) wrote an article in the Guardian yesterday, pointing out: “For Ruskin, art was about beauty, and beauty had a higher moral and social purpose”.

The free booklet at the Exhibition informs us: “Around 1860…Beauty came to be valued more highly than truth, as Pre-Raphaelitism slowly metamorphosed into the Aesthetic movement.”

A slight divergence from one of their heroes, the poet John Keats, who had written during the Romantic movement early in the same century in 1819:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”

In Modern Context

The last word goes to Giles Fraser: “Ruskin’s insistence that art might have some higher moral purpose no longer seems to trouble the wealthy aesthetes of the 21st century.”  Fast forward to the 21st Century and earlier this week the Guardian ran an article by Jonathan Jones about Damien Hirst’s latest sculpture, claiming about Hirst that he “made modern British art, and has destroyed it.”  How did we get from there, to here?

Further Reading

If you would like to read my earlier blog on the subject “The Pre-Raphaelites – A Soul Group”, here is the link: