The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

Consulting the Oracle 1884
I’m going to quote directly from the Exhibit (book) concerning the above painting:
According the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Teraphim were originally human heads, taken from first born male adults who had been sacrificed. Shaved, salted, spiced, and with a golden plate bearing magic words placed under the tongue, it was believed Teraphic heads could talk and give guidance. In twentieth-century excavations of Jericho, evidence of human skulls having been used as cult objects was discovered, supporting the existence of this practice. It is possible that the worship of the heads originated first as a fetish representative of ancestors, but gradually they came to be considered as oracular.
The Targum of the Pseudo-Jonathan was probably composed around the 15th Century C.E.. Human sacrifices (especially of first born children) by ancient Canaanites, as evidenced in the excavations of Jericho, Tyre, Sidon and Carthage, a colony of Tyre, were one of the practices so abhorent to the God of the Bible, and inquiring of the dead, one of the justifications given for Israel’s invasion and conquest of the land.

St. Eulalia 1885
Eulalia was martyred, gruesomely with iron hooks and torches applied to her body, in 304 C.E. at twelve years of age. At the moment of her death, white doves and snow are supposed to have fallen, extinguishing the flames. Waterhouse’s treatment is at once original in composition – the foreshortened figure of Eulalia is certainly unconventional – and beautiful. The snow has extinguished all trace of blood and flames. I must say that Eulalia’s figure, mature for a twelve year old, does not seem to bear any evidence of fire or torture, for which I’m thankful, but I don’t imagine real martyrdom is so painless to behold.

The Magic Circle 1886
This painting, in spite of its occult subject, is one of Waterhouse’s best, I think. The sorceress isn’t an ideal beauty, as in later paintings. It appears to have an Egyptian locality, but the dress looks more Druidical and medieval English. The dress and the background are rendered natural and uncontrived by means of thin, liquid paint, brushed on with confidence.
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