Thursday, May 24, 2012

Proserpine (1874)

Proserpine (1874) Tate Gallery, London
Proserpine [or Persephone in Greek mythology], is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter ~ the goddess of harvest.  In the myth, she is kidnapped by the love-stricken Hades to the underworld.  Demeter searches in vain for her daughter and during her search, causes a long drought to fall on the people. Zeus the orders Hades to release Proserpine.  In an uncanny resemblance to Genesis’ Eve, Hades tricks her into eating forbidden fruit ~ in this case, pomegranate seeds, because it is said that whomever eats or drinks anything while in the Underworld must remain there for all eternity.  In some versions, Proserpine eats four to six seeds, the number of dry months when nothing grows and she must return to the Underworld.

Again, rich hues and realism make this an easy choice.  Jane Morris is the muse here and Rossetti penned a sonnet of longing to go with the painting:

Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.
Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey   

The irony here is that Jane Morris was trapped in an unhappy marriage to William Morris and both she and Rossetti were tasting the forbidden fruit of an adulterous affair.

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