Posted by: wiber22m | December 17, 2015

The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships and “Sadness”

When we discussed the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron in class, I was struck by the photograph “Sadness” because of how Hellenistic it is. After learning about the subject of the photograph, Ellen Terry, I couldn’t help but consider how much this photograph made me think of Helen of Troy herself, because of the combination of the context and composition of the photograph.



“Sadness” by Julia Margaret Cameron


Cameron took this photograph when Terry was on her honeymoon, after marrying George Frederic Watts at age 16, who was 30 years her senior. Their marriage was purportedly an unhappy one, which eventually ended in divorce. Terry, a famous actress, very well may have simply been acting for the photograph but even so her expression certainly captures a feeling of sadness.


The visibility of the walls in the photograph lend themselves to a feeling of confinement, as does Terry’s position leaning against one of them. Her state of dress give a feeling of vulnerability, which only amplifies the feeling that the subject is in some way captive.


Similarly to the feeling of confinement in the photograph, sources are unclear on Helen. In some accounts she was kidnapped by Paris and physically held prisoner while in others she was trapped in her marriage to Menelaus. Helen was considered to have been quite young during the events of the Trojan War (and as such her marriage and kidnapping, which were precursory events) making Terry a fitting shadow of the captive queen.


Whether imprisoned through marriage or actual physical confinement, Terry is the picture of Helen, beautiful and trapped.


  1. I completely agree that Terry looks trapped in this photograph, and the comparison to Helen of Troy seems spot on. What really drew my attention was the thick, rope-like necklace that she is wearing. It really accentuates the idea of imprisonment and the way she rests her fingers over it could be viewed as depicting her dwelling over her sad circumstances. Especially because she is gazing away from her body although she is still looking downward. It makes the viewer question whether her hand placement is absentminded or intentional. Furthermore, this very real “rope” or “chain” makes her potential imprisonment universal. Many female characters are bound in some way in many works of myth and literature. One example other than Helen of Troy is the Greek myth about Andromeda who was bound to the rock awaiting death until her future husband rescued her. It is interesting that is is marriage that is what possibly traps Terry, whereas in many other works marriage is what saves the trapped woman.

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