John Everett Millais - The Eve of St Agnes
 The protagonist of John Keats' Eve of St Agnes Madeline stands in the middle of a bedroom in her bodice with her dress around her knees. She is lit with a lattice effect from a stained glass window which bathes her in a teal light. She is at the foot of a four poster bed.


"....Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;

Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;

Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees

Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:

Half-hidden, like a mermaid in seaweed,

Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees

In fancy fair St Agnes in her bed,

But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled...."

The Eve of St. Agnes,  John Keats

John Everett Millais presents a deeply intimate scene from John Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes (1820). The protagonist Madeline is partially undressed, bathed in a blue-green light from a stained glass window. The intensity of this emotional moment is captured in the pooled dress and the semi revealed undergarments. The possibility of supernatural or divine intervention is suggested through the wash of stained light. The liminality of Madeline’s position — awaiting her husband, hoping for him to be supernaturally delivered— is conveyed by her state of half undress and the intensity with which she must look upon her empty bed for fear of breaking the ‘charm’.

In Eve of St Agnes, Millais seemingly flouts the conventional mode of storytelling contemporary critics understood— encapsulating an entire narrative in one scene —which he has adhered to previously in his own Isabella painting. However, the core of the poem’s narrative is allowed to bloom in full colour, even in this isolated scene, which is the process of adaptation.

 Oil on canvas.

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  • John Everettt Millais

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