Pre-Raphaelite Women

more of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings
  General questions: "As artists, the women were less clearly successful than the male Pre-Raphaelite painters.  As images, however, they dominate the scene.  There are in fact three main types of Pre-Raphaelite 'stunner,' which correspond in part to the phases of Pre-Raphaelite art and in part to the ideas of feminity current in the Victorian age.
  • I. The first and earliest type--the fair, demure, modest maiden with her innocent attractions (e..g. E. Siddal);
  • II. the second--the proud golden beauty who might borrow a term from later 'sex goddesses' (e.g. Fanny Cornforth);
  • III. the third--the dark, enigmatic Feminine (e.g. Jane Morris)" (Marsh pp. 27-28; underline, boldface & parentheses added).

  • IV. The women's roles in "The Blessed Damosel"--1. draft; 2. final; 3. poem.

    V. Christina Rossetti as "an honorary Pre-Raphaelite Sister" ?

    VI. Basic background information:
  • Pre-Raphaelites: An Introduction
  • Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism (also a caricature of Pre-Raphaelite Circle).

  • V. Important Dates related to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the three women
  • the formation of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
  • 1849
  • met Elizabeth Siddal and used her as the main model (not to be used by the others)
  • 1856
  • met Fanny Cornforth and used her as the main model
  • 1857
  • met Jane Morris
  • 1860
  • married Siddal
  • 1862
  • Siddal died
  • 1863
  • Fanny Cornforth became somebody else's housekeeper.
  • 1865
  • used J. Morris as the main model
  • 1871
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti criticized as "the Fleshly School of Poetry"
  • 1882
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti died
  • --

    I. Elizabeth Siddal As a milliner's daughter, she lived under very limited circumstances when she met DGR.
           "Rossetti fell in love with the pale, red-haiired milliner and transformed her life by encouraging her own pursuit of art" (Marsh 21). 
    Self Portrait, 1853-4 
    Elizabeth Siddal, . 
    How are the above two paintings different?
     .Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, 1854 
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    "...Beata Beatrix, inspired by DAnte's Vita Nuova and portraying the beloved at the moment of her transition from earth to heaven, was the artist's mourning tribute to his wife... [It] has always been interpreted as a strong if somewhat sentimental token of the artist's grief and guilt, ....  It is, however, also a truly marcabre image, of the beloved woman at the moment of death, painted in the sensuous style of Rossetti's middle period, and its sense of necrophiliac longing is hard to evade" (Marsh 141-42). 
    • pay attention to the use of symbols: the man (Dante) and the woman (Love) at the back, the sundial, the red dove, etc.
    Beata Beatrix 1864-70 
    D. G. Rossetti

    II. Fanny Cornforth--Originally a prostitute, Fanny "sat for many of Rossetti's 'vision of carnal loveliness'" (23)
    Photograph of Fanny Cornforth, 1863 
    W. and D. Downey ("Rossetti's meeting with Fanny altered [his view of prostitution as moral filth and contagion] and his poem 'Jenny' was a possible result of this revaluation" Marsh 84)
    Fazio's Mistress, 1863.D.G.Rossetti 
    (loose, luxuriant hair was an emblem of female sexuality in Pre-Raphaelite painting...[Here] we may well have a clue to the rippling effect of so much Pre-Raphaelite hair.  After washing, the tresses were plaited while still wet--as Fanny is shown doing--and then allowwed to dry, creating a naturally crimped look Marsh 23.)

    III. Jane Morris cast as Pandora, Prosperine and the poor Pia.  Why?  To show DGR's love for her, sympathy with her conditions, or to contain her power in his paintings? 
    photograph of Jane Morris, 1865 
    John R. Parsons (Marsh 26)
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    Prosperine, 1877. (captive in the underworld, because she has eaten pomegranate seeds, shown here in carnal red. Marsh 144)
    How are these two different?
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pandora, 1869. (Marsh 27) .La Pia De'Tolomei (story from Dante, about poor Pia, imprioned by a cruel husband in a fortress where she dies of despire and disease, Marsh 144-145)
    D.G. Rossetti, 1868-90.

    IV. The Blessed Damosel

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti 
    The Blessed Damozel, 1875-1878 
    The Harvard University Art Museum 
    (Fogg Art Museum) Cambridge, Massachusetts; 
    Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop

    study for lovers in The Blessed Damozel, 1876  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (Marsh 57)  (The two female figures in the foreground are modelled on Jane Morris.)
    "Around her,, lovers, newly met 
    'Mid deathless love's acclaims, 
    Spoke evermore amongst themselves 
    Their rapturous new names."

    V. Christina Rossetti--"As a young woman she possessed a fierce wit and strong emotions, visible in her writing; with her liverly interest in the Brotherhood and her own poetic contribution to The Germ, she may almost be counted as an honorary Pre-Raphaelite Sister" (underline added Marsh 34)
    Christina Rossetti, c.1850 
    James Collinson, a PRB member (Marsh 32)
    Ecce Ancilla Domini,1850 
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (Marsh 33)
    C. Rossetti was engaged to Collinson while the portrait above was in progress.  in 1850, Collinson resigned from the Brotherhood and rejoined the Catholic church; at the same time he renounced his engagement, to C. Rossetti's relief. (32)
  • How are these two paintings different?

  •  References:Jan Marsh.  The Pre-Raphaelite Women: Images of Femininity in Pre-Raphaelite Art .  London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.
    Richard Altick.  Victorian People and Ideas.  NY: Norton, 1973.