|The Pained Heart or Sign no More, by Arthur Hughes|
|Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck|
Although Hughes' are enhanced with a Victorian eye for patterns and a softer look in the subjects, if you compare his painting to that of Van Eyck's famous Arnolfini portrait, you'll notice a few similarities in the styles, and use of symbols, and color.
But what do the symbols mean?
On the left side, if we look out the window a sparrow is perched on the bush outside.
"The sparrow shown near a window, perched on a ledge, flying in a window, flying outside a window or perched on a branch outside a window, represents the soul of a recently deceased loved one..." Source
The elder lady is wearing mourning clothes but the younger is not. A death does not seem quite the right meaning. How else could we interpret the symbol?
Let's take a look at the subtitle of the painting. You probably recognize it from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never;
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny;
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into. Hey nonny, nonny.
Perhaps its not the death of a loved one but the death of an image she'd built of the man she loves; her heart has been broken or is about to be.
What about the lute? Vermeer uses the instrument in quite a few of his paintings:
|Love Letter, by Johannes Vermeer|
"The lute is rich not only in repertoire but in symbolism...it could be an emblem of lust or lasciviousness... If the lute's sensuous and delicate tones evoked the pleasures of love, the fleeting nature of its sound, and the physical fragility of the instrument made it a fitting emblem of transience and death..." SourceAgain we have the ideas of passion and death. It's on the floor rather than being played, as though cast away in her reverie.
To the right of the painting, hanging on the loom is a shell. Similar to the one used by Botticelli in his Birth of Venus. Shells often represent sensuality, fertility, and wealth.
You'll also notice the pink rose petals on the floor. Do you see the light pink roses flying about to the left of Botticelli's painting? Venus, in Roman mythology was the goddess of love.
|The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli|
What secrets do you see? What do you think her story is? Has she just discovered the truth about her love? or does it loom before her as the concerned and kind-looking elderly lady does?