Romantic Medievalism In Fairytales

Recently, I took a look at some of the influences that affected nineteenth century children’s illustrators.
Romantic Medievalism was a 19th century movement of artists, who blended history and mythology into illustrations for fairytales, a topic I’ve been fascinated by since studying it at university. Illustrators from Sir John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) to Kate Greenaway (1846 – 1901) captured the imagination by creating imaginary scenes using the motifs of different time periods, including their Victorian age.
Take Tenniel’s illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland for example. The whole story is set in the 1860’s, but changes when Alice enters Wonderland in pursuit of the White Rabbit and meets characters with medieval, but supernatural peculiarities. Tenniel added pieces of medieval history to specific scenes with objects from everyday life to create his own bizarre characterisations, like the kings, queens and knights: all three inspired by the red and black design of playing cards.
Another character that interests me is the Duchess, I hadn’t realised that a painting A Grotesque Old Woman (possibly the Duchess of Carinthia) by Flemish Renaissance artist, Quentin Massys, inspired Tenniel’s interpretation of her. In the illustration, she wears an iconic low cut dress from five hundred years ago, and maintains the frown from the original painting to add individuality to her character. Tenniel and other experts have the Duchess’ characterisation as ‘pocket-watch’, the original translation of the Duchess’ surname. However, the biggest feature that caught my eye was the Duchess’ enlarged head against Alice’s normal Victorian costime, making the setting appear more like a scene would see in a theatre play.
Children’s illustrator Kate Greenaway, who influenced Tenniel, used a similar approach with romantic medievalism, sourcing classical styles from the Regency period and other eras to adorn her characters: for example adding bonnets and pinafore dresses to classical Greek dress to explore her fascination with imaginative fairytales.
kate greenaway
According to writer Rodney Engen, who wrote her biography, fairies, gnomes and other supernatural creatures inspired her characters. I noticed in one illustration, Dolly’s Dream (1875) a little girl bearing a striking resemblance to Alice. Though there is less medievalism, the background of Romanticism show what is going on inside the little girl’s mind, creating her own imaginative world like Alice. This is an example of Greenaway’s adaptation of fairytales with classical Victorian styles and techniques.
With Romantic Medievalism, I see how illustrators brought their imaginations to life through the appropriation of historical symbols and mythology, as in Tenniel’s Through The Looking Glass, where most of the scenes are set on a chessboard with each shape representing a piece of countryside; or Greenaway with her explorations of classical themes involving day dreams and childhood memories. Fellow illustrator Edmund Evans described her images as ‘very quaint designs of little children, so cleverly lithographed’.

Visual Storytelling In Children’s Books

Understanding the importance of narrative in picture books is a key part of development for writers and illustrator. Today, I offer my personal perspective on the way pictures and text work together to create stories.

The thing that fascinates about picture books are pictures and words as fragments of sequential imagery and language. Picture books not only visualise information, but also bring out meaning to the story as well as entertain and educate the reader. Parents who read to their children help them understand the importance of reading, as well as entertaining them.

In the fifteenth century, Leonardo Da Vinci pointed out that ‘the more you describe, the more you will confine the mind of the reader’, he felt it was necessary to draw and describe at the same time because colour, pace, rhythm and suspense are used to tell a story whether in a painting or picture book. Sequential illustration is an example – though it is mainly imagery with no words, narrative is addressed visually. The child develops the process of reading imagery in visual sequence, from left to right, and top to bottom.

the very hungry caterpillar

Some books which tell stories visually have unique ways of telling stories about life-cycles. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, first published in 1969, serves as a good example, showing a young caterpillar going through the stages of development into a beautiful butterfly. It educates the reader about the life cycle between a caterpillar and butterfly but also entertains them. By looking at the images and listening to the story, the child is also reading the pictures.

Sequential illustration can be transformed into animated short films or adverts, for example The Snowman, written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs and first published in 1978, a children’s book without words about a boy whose snowman comes to life. The picture book was such a huge success, it was adapted into a 26-minute short animated film in 1982, with new additions including the snowman taking the boy to see Father Christmas. Also a theatre play was developed based on the book. Both versions became as successful as the book, being shown every Christmas.


I had experience of sequential illustration during the first semester of my second university year. The task was to make a picture book based on the theme of circus – the storyline was a child attending the circus with her mother. I attempted to adapt elements from everyday life to intrigue the audience, e.g. adding fun and humour in the book to promote the circus. After developing this theme in thumbnail drawings, I researched more into the fairytale side of the circus and created characters, starting off with miniature sketches and then adding larger images with circus surroundings.

welcome sign and clowns page 3 and 4

Picture books are a very important part of the child’s intellectual and imaginative development. They are also educational because readers are learning about something, and through that something, there’s a chance they may get to experience it in reality.

The Mythology of Walter Crane

This was my first article, published for the children’s book online magazine, Words & Pictures.

Illustration is all about ideas and inspiration which can be turned into a theme relevant to the story, whether it is for a children’s book, painting or editiorial illustration. From my list of inspiring illustrators, I have selected Walter Crane who demonstrated a unique focus of fairytale combined with mythology, specifically Greek.

Walter Crane (1845-1915), a key figurative book illustrator and decorative artist of the nineteenth century, serves as a perfect example of how fairytale was combined with mythology, primarily due to his use of many themes which influenced his work within the Aesthetic Movement, an organisation of which he was a key believer.

In 1863, British painter William Rothenstein said: ‘Nowhere is the peculiar character of the mid-Victorian aesthetic movement better interpreted than in the children’s picture books’; which reinforces how Crane demonstrated a constructive use of imagination through characterisation, where enchantment and mythological subjects within the fairytale, better referred to as romantic themes, appear through a narrative perspective.

Crane utilised symbolism and the legendary medieval world, and combined them with fairytale and myth to connect with the Aesthetic movement. These elements are established through art and literature so that readers can appreciated both the beauty and the meaning.

beauty and the beast

Take Walter Crane’s Beauty and the Beast as an example. In a statement surrounding Aestheticism and myth, art historian Elizabeth Prettejohn described Crane’s methods as ‘the intextuality of the movement through art as well as literature’.

The fan is a symbol of the birth of Venus, a reference to either the Roman goddess of love and beauty, or Aphrodite from Greek Mythology. In the illustration above the woman is holding the fan to represent comeliness within the context of the story, whereas the beast is desperate to find the love of a beautiful woman to break his curse.

One other feature that fascinates me is characterisation. In Beauty and the Beast, there are hints of medievalism, combined with aestheticism. Taking clothing as an example, you can see that they are from different ages despite the scenery being Victorian. The woman has a combination of classical Greek dress to demonstrate her beauty as the first main protagonist to the fairytale. And the beast is wearing an old Turkish uniform which associates with Victorian Medievalism in reference to his partial humanity, which he masks through the suffering he is forced to endure – some may call it a punishment – for his selfish actions.

Time For A Change

Hello all…

I am writing this next blog post to tell you that I am updating my website and my art practice will be changing to line drawing. I will be making colouring books, greeting cards, posters and prints for you to colour in.

It is a technique I have been considering changing to for some time, and I did not realise how much I enjoyed doing it until now. My plan is to produce an adult colouring book based on spring and a set of easter greeting cards, as well as an alphabet book for children, to spread joy and happiness through colouring, because believe me: it is a very therapeutic…

I look forward to sharing it with you, and will keep you updated…

Upcoming Novel

Aside from being a practicing artist, I am also currently writing my first novel. It is something I have been planning since I was fifteen but with school and university work, and writer’s block taking over, it was impossible for me to work on it for some time. I decided to put it to rest, but kept my ideas and brainstorming so that what I was writing about wasn’t lost.

My main idea was to set the storyline on both Earth and other worlds in the Universe. As time went on, more ideas came to my mind like: what if I loosely based this first book around a type of mythology, but still including the original idea? I started researching any cosmology in mythology and eventually, I came across the Norse Mythology. I researched stories, such as Yggdrasil, the gods and goddesses, and other topics. Since then, I decided to plan out a novel series entitled, ‘The Cosmo Chronicles’. I do not yet know the total number of books I will, but I can tell you that the first one is called, ‘The Cosmo Chronicles: The Wells of Yggdrasil’, and my plan is to have it finished after Christmas.

Online Shop

Hi everyone,

I am writing this post to confirm that I now have a new online shop. The link can be found in my ‘How To Buy’ section. The products consist of cushions, phone covers, art prints and a lot more.

Participation In The Oxford International Art Fair

Starting from February 26th through to February 28th, I will be exhibiting my art work at the Oxford International Art Fair, held at the Oxford Town Hall.

This is an incredible event, organised by the Global Art Agency, giving artists around the globe the chance to show what they can do. From me, I will be exhibiting a range of categories, including botanical, animals, landscapes and wedding bouquets.



Hello, my name is Chloe Yelland. I’m 22 years old, and I am an emerging artist who recently graduated from the the University of Derby with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Illustration.

From a very early age, I have loved everything to do with art, but it was not until I received my very first professional watercolour painting set at the age of ten, that I realized it was my ambition to pursue an art related career, whether as a freelancer, art researcher or any other type of career.


I intend to go in between numerous categories of drawing and painting, including botanical, floral, landscape, animals and most recently wedding bouquets. Therefore, my inspiration comes from nature, animals, astronomy and photography. I also explore stories from mythology and history to create fairytale adaptations from all ages, one of which was an illustration of the World’s Tree, Yggdrasil from Norse Cosmology.