Saturday, 29 August 2015

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships? I really doubt it!

Let's be honest, the Pre-Raphaellite artist Frederick Sandys' Helen of Troy (1867) looks more like Helen's DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). I know the Pre-Raphaelites had a thing for long red hair and sulky mouths - and this model's hair looks quite spectacular - but her expression is that of a confirmed trencherwoman who, after spending an evening necking them down at the local boozer, has just discovered that the local Nandos has closed for the night when she was really looking forward to a whole chicken with chips and a chocolate cheesecake. And the bloke she finally managed to pick up has passed out on the pavement and her mobile's run out juice, so she can't call a cab.

Fellow PRBer, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, went for a similar hair-do for his Helen, but also failed to come up with an obvious looker - this one says mad music teacher to me:

I realise that conceptions of female beauty vary widely across race, place and time - but I refuse to believe that either of the above would have caused the war between Greece and Troy. Just - no!

Mind you, artists have always found it well nigh impossible to portray believable Helens - but some have given it their best shot: 
A bit...obvious? More Helen LeTroy, Exotic Dancer, I'd have thought. Guido Reni's 1631 effort is a lot more convincing...

...and Evelyn de Morgan's 1898 attempt also deserves applause (although I find it hard to belive the length of those toes):

I'm also quite fond of David's The Love of Paris and Helen (1788) - partly because it depicts Paris as a preening, curly-headed creep in need of a damned good slapping, which is exactly how I've always thought of the selfish wretch:

I suppose the problem is that, with Helen, we're dealing with an archetype - and each of us fleshes out our archetypes differently, according to our experiences. (Jung probably expressed it better.) 


  1. It's Kelly MacDonald from "No Country for Old Men" and then "Nucky" Thompson's wife from "Boardwalk Empire" .sporting her trade-mark "Who cut the cheese?" expression.

    1. The expression, maybe - but Kelly Macdonald is a very attractive woman with a strong face, as opposed to Sandys' "Fat Slapper Down the Chippy" version of the most alluring woman of all time.