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.

The painting was painted in the artist’s studio in Brighton during the winter and spring of 1888/89. The painting is also known as The Habit does not make the Monk.

Watts was one of the most famous painters of the Victorian era.  He painted portraits, landscapes, and pictures exploring themes and ideas of the time, such as the Irish Famine or animal cruelty. He also painted ‘Symbolist’ pictures which often had complex meanings and famously said ‘I paint ideas, not things’.

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 the Balcony.


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