Clytie and Ovid

Meredith Moore '08, EL 156, Romans in Togas: Classicism and Empire in Victorian Literature and Art, Brown University

[Victorian Web Home —> Visual Arts —> Sculpture —> George Frederic Watts, RA]

Clytie During the same period as his memorial sculptures, Watts began work on a group of three female subjects. Clytie, Daphne, and Aurora, all characters of Ovid's Metamorphoses, were not meant as public works, but the earliest of the three, Clytie, was so well received that he gained support and commissions for later public works (Brown 97). Watts' dynamic representation of Clytie united him with traditions of the past, while imbuing his future with opportunities to develop a contemporary style all his own.

In the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells of the sea nymph, Clytie, who gazed from sunrise to sunset at Apollo as he drove his sun-chariot through the heavens. For nine days and nights she did not move, only turned her head to follow the sun. On the tenth morning she awoke to find herself changed into a sunflower (a heliotrope), her limbs rooted to the ground, with leaves enfolding her body. Condemned to turning her blossom-covered face toward the sun, she follows Apollo's daily flight across the sky.

Watt's bust of Clytie, depicts her metamorphosis into a flower, with leaves beginning to sprout from her body. Watts' use of Michelangelo's figura serpentina accentuates not only Clytie's musculature, but also shows the folds and creases of the skin, marking a movement repeated over time. Watts goes past initial metamorphosis, and anticipates the consequences heliotropic movement on the body. In addition to the twisting figura serpentina, the unfinished state of Clytie can also be attributed to Michelangelo's style. The non-finito state, which Michelangelo left many of his later works, was mirrored in the uncompleted marble statue of Clytie Watts displayed at the RA in 1868. Watts also has taken into account the significance of light on the sculpture. His chiseling technique and the unfinished state created different planes and delicate curves "worked in innumerable facets," which maximize the play of light on the surface (Brown 99). Lastly, Watts realized Clytie as a form through which to "concretize an upward progression: from the vegetal, to the animal, to the intellect, to the spirit" (Brown 99). The spirit, which is represented by the light, which she turns her head for, symbolizes Watts' idea of human straining after spiritual light. This piece, considered by some art critics of the time, "to have been the true forerunner of New Sculpture" (Brown, 96), indeed goes far beyond the dull neoclassical ideal.

Questions

1. Compare Watts' Clytie to his later painting The Wife of Pygmalion, which he exhibited simultaneously at the exhibit in 1868 as a companion piece.

2. Which do you find to be more dramatic? Why would he chose to exhibit them together?

3. Compare the treatment of bodies and material in Leighton's Athlete Strangling a Python with Clytie.

References

Brown, Stephanie. "Indefinite expansion: Watts and the Physicality of Sculpture." in Representations of G.F. Watts: art making in Victorian culture. Ed. Colin Trodd and Stephanie Brown. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2004.


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Last modified 9 April 2007