Consulting the Oracle 1884

Date: 1884
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 119 x 198 cm
Location: Tate Britain, London, UK

The Illustrated London News featured Consulting the Oracle as a principal work of the year and reprinted the entire piece across two pages in its extra supplement. Sir Henry Tate, an English sugar merchant and philanthropist, bought the book and included it in his founding bequest to the nation. Today, it can be found in the collection of Tate Britain. Let us examine why Sir Henry Tate chose to include this work in his bequest to the nation.

Pre-Raphaelite style

In the painting, the priestess rests her ear on the embalmed head of the oracle and interprets its words. The Pre-Raphaelite style of painting is distinguished by its ability to transcend the simple portrayal of an episode from a poem. Rather than merely being a rendering of the poem itself, the Pre-Raphaelite style serves as an entire text, functioning like subject paintings.

In Consulting the Oracle, Waterhouse continues to paint with the magical theme. Waterhouse was influenced by foreign culture, architecture, and art. It has been compared to The Magic Circle, an 1881 painting by Edward Hogarth. The Pre-Raphaelite style in the painting was not fully established until Waterhouse exhibited it at the Tate Museum in London. Waterhouse's 1884 painting was a major success, and he was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1885.

Women's expressions of apprehension

In Women's expressions of aporia when consulting the Oracle 1884 by John Willam Waterhouse, seven young girls gather around a shrine to consult the oracle. They are silent, their expressions suggestive of apprehension and fear, and the priestess bends forward to catch the mysterious utterances coming from the oracle.

Influence of Dante Rossetti's Astarte Syriaca

In Consulting the Oracle, Dante Rossetti reworks his Astarte Syriaca, the ancient Syrian goddess of love. Rossetti incorporates religious iconography in his paintings. This work features repetition in characters, locations, music, camera shots, and more. While he is a master of repetition, he also works with the technique of the fragment.

The image of the goddess of wisdom and love that Rossetti uses to evoke the goddess Astarte Syriaca in his later work is quite striking. She is a voluptuous and sensuous woman with large hands and limbs, and she holds a metal strap with her right hand. She has a long flowing hairstyle and full lips and seems to stride towards the viewer, but this stance is counterintuitive given her erotic content.