Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Paintings of Jane Morris

Jane Morris was the wife of Rossetti's friend and fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Morris. After the death of Rossetti's wife, Elizabeth Sidal, Rossetti fell passionately and obsessively in love with Jane Morris, using her constantly as the model for his paintings. Jane Morris came to epitomize the Pre-Raphaelite image of woman--very much in contrast to the slight, blond, fragile, corsetted female form that typified conventional Victorian female beauty.

The novelist Henry James described Jane Morris in the following way:

"A figure cut out of a missal--out of one of Rossetti's or Hunt's pictures--to say this gives a faint idea of her, because when such an image puts on flesh and blood, it is an apparition of fearful and wonderful intensity. It's hard to say whether she's a grand synthesis of all the Pre-Raphaelite pictures ever made--or they are a "keen analysis" of her--whether she's an original or a copy. In either case she is a wonder. Imagine a tall lean woman in a long dress of some dead purple stuff, guiltless of hoops (or of anything else I should say), with a maze of crisp black hair, heaped in a great wavy projections on each of her temples, a thin pale face, great thick black oblique brows, joined in the middle and tucking themselves away under her hair, a mouth like the "Oriana" in our illustrated Tennyson, a long neck, without any collar, and in lieu thereof some dozen strings of outlandish beads. In fine complete."

James' speculation about whether Jane Morris is "an original or a copy" encapsulates the problem that Christina Rossetti dared to expose in "In an Artist's Studio": the painter's tendency to confuse the real woman with an image in his mind and on his canvas.

Here is a selection of Rossetti's paintings with Jane Morris as his model:

Click on the image to see a full-screen version.

 La Donna della Frammia (1870)  

 Astarte Syriaca (1877)  

 Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon
    Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen
    Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen
  Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon
  Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:
    And from her neck's inclining flower-stem lean
    Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean
  The pulse of hearts to the sphere's dominant tune.

  Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel
    All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea
    The witnesses of Beauty's face to be:
  That face, of Love's all-penetrative spell
  Amulet, talisman, and oracle, -
    Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

                      ----Dante Gabriel Rossetti

    La Pia d'Tolomei (1866-80)