The Cowl Maketh Not the Monk

The Cowl Maketh Not the Monk, 1889
George Frederick Watts (1817-1904)
Oil on canvas
BORGM 02316
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum


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The Cowl Maketh Not the Monk

The painting’s title is based on a medieval proverb warning that a person’s appearance is not an indication of their true character. This painting of Cupid thinly disguised as a monk (you can just see his cowl) is an allegorical depiction of how deceitful appearances can be. Love can easily be concealed, or forged, with disastrous consequences. Cupid has a mischievous expression on his face, who knows which lady’s door he is knocking on?

It was painted in the artist’s studio in Brighton during the winter and spring of 1888/89. The painting is also known as ‘The Habbit Maketh Not the Monk’.

Watts shocked Victorian society by marrying the 16-year-old actress, Ellen Terry, who was thirty years his junior. She was the theatrical partner of Henry Irving and a number of her personal effects and props are displayed in the Irving Room just off this gallery.


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