Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

La Ghirlandata
oil on canvas
124 x 85 cm
Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman London's Amphitheatre, London, UK

Just one year before Rossetti produced La Ghirlandata, he had attempted suicide: Grief-stricken after the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal. And then, Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris, ‘filled the gap’ and the two began an affair which lasted many years. However, while this painting was created at Kelmscott at a time when Rossetti became infatuated with Jane Morris, the model for La Ghirlanta is not Morris - It is Alexa Wilding.

Owing to its association with love, music was often a feature of Rossetti’s paintings of women. In La Ghirlandata the beautiful but impassive Alexa Wilding is depicted plucking at the strings of a harp, garlanded with lushly blooming roses and honeysuckle, flowers that Rossetti associated with sexual attraction. Her hair is loose and her draperies flutter about her neck in decorative flowing lines. Rossetti created several oil paintings from 1871 until 1874 depicting women with musical instruments: This is one of the most emotional and symbolic.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882) was one of the most unusual and original of all Victorian artists. He was a poet, illustrator, painter and translator. His art was characterized by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. Poetry and image are closely entwined in his works; he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures. He reacted against the prevailing tendency towards realism and created a new kind of art, painting in his maturity powerful and mysterious dreamlike images of women that convey, through poetic suggestiveness and allusive detail, ideas of sensuality, beauty, love, death and destiny.

For Rossetti, women embodied the mystery of life, and this belief ran through his diverse subject matter from his early pictures typifying female virtue, to the femmes fatales of his later work, representing the power of women over men. A distinguished poet as well as a painter, he was able to enrich his work through his familiarity with European literature, especially with his namesake Dante.

Rossetti gained his love of the Italian poet’s work from his father, a Dante scholar who had come to London as a political exile. Dante’s intense vision of Beatrice, his ideal love for her that transcended death, was one of the wellsprings of Rossetti’s art, and at times his own life seemed to run in parallel. The visionary world he constructed in his art was imaginary, but it was built on personal experience; his ideals of female beauty were inspired by the delicate features of Elizabeth Siddal, his early muse, who died tragically soon after their marriage, and then by the statuesque Jane Morris. But he also frequently used professional models.