Arthur Hacker’s Syrinx (1892): paint, classics and the culture of rape

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Representations of rape and sexual violence abound in Victorian painting, but art historical analysis of this phenomenon has been scarce. This article uses Arthur Hacker’s 1892 painting Syrinx to examine late nineteenth-century approaches and responses to visually representing rape. Hacker’s painting has been on public display in Manchester Art Gallery since 1893. It depicts a standing unclothed young woman attempting to cover her body with reeds, subject matter from the story of Pan and Syrinx in book I of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. What is the relation between the nude in art, growing as a respectable aesthetic category for some Victorians by the 1890s, and the representation of rape? How might the representation of rape trouble the idea of the respectable nude in art? This article examines how a rape narrative from antiquity was remade as part of the public culture of Victorian Britain, examining the aesthetic, material, literary, legal, medical and museum contexts in which its meanings were produced. It also considers how the representation of rape in this Victorian painting continues to be rethought in Manchester Art Gallery today.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalFeminist Theory
Issue number1
Early online date29 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • Arthur Hacker, Ovid, representation of rape, Victorian painting, nude in art, Manchester Art Gallery