Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c. 1863, (Tate Britain)Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Beata Beatrix was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova about his love for Beatrice, but it is actually a painting about Rossetti’s wife, Lizzie, mourning her death.
In 1850 Rossetti had fallen in love with Lizzie Siddal, a milliner’s shop assistant, who had agreed to pose for William Deverell, another member of the Brotherhood. She became a favourite model of all the members, including posing for hours in a tepid bath as Millais’s Ophelia. Rossetti, though, became increasingly possessive about her and they lived together and eventually married in 1860. But he gave her a hard time, neglecting her and was unfaithful. They lived in dark, cold and damp rooms at Chatham Place, near Blackfriars Bridge. Lizzie’s health deteriorated. She was frail and depressed, and became addicted to laudanum. After her child was stillborn, Rossetti came home late one night in 1862 he found her dead, with an empty phial by her side. The official verdict was accidental death but to Rossetti it felt like suicide (which was illegal and immoral at the time and would have barred her from a Christian burial).
Rossetti’s portrait mourns Lizzie’s the death, showing her in a ecstatic, trance-like state. The haloed red dove, the messenger of Love, carrying a flower has become the messenger of Death and the flower is a poppy, the symbol of sleep and death and also the source of opium (laudanum), the drug which killed her.
I think this is such a beautiful, powerful painting ‘“ Rossetti described it saying Lizzy was ‘˜rapt from earth to heaven‘.
Linked to ABC Wednesday.