Monday, December 3, 2012

Proserpine close up

Afar away the light that brings cold cheer
Unto this wall, - one instant and no more
Admitted at my distant palace-door
Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear
Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.
Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey
That chills me: and afar how far away,
The nights that shall become the days that were.
Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing
Strange ways in thought, and listenfor a sign:
And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,
O, Whose sounds mine inner sense in fain to bring,
Continually together murmuring) —
'Woe me for thee, unhappy Proserpine'.
— D. G. Rossetti

In a letter to Henry T. Dunn, the artist's studio assistant) dated 17 February, 1880, Rossetti wrote:
I have had already to sacrifice to him [William Graham] (and it came very conveniently) the Proserpine you commenced and I carried on, to meet a debt which he proved (to my surprise) off] 00 to be met by chalk work, and which had got quite overlooked for years. This Proserpine I must finish, and would finish at some time the replica I now propose for him, if I know when you could set about the commencement [Letters IV, 1713]
Dante Gabriel Rossetti became, of his generation, one of the finest exponents in the medium of coloured chalks. From his 'Medieval' watercolours of the 1850s to his symbolic female figure subjects in oil, his technical prowess reached its apex toward the end of his life in his series of highly finished pastel drawings, He had started to make images in chalk in the mid 1860s under the guidance of Frederick Sandys.39 Three versions of Proserpine exist in oil: the primary version dated 1877 (Paul Getty Jnr),40 the second dated 1874 (Tate Gallery) and the final version of 1882 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). The present work is the only recorded full-scale version of Rossetti's Proserpine composition in chalks made by the artist himself.
Of all Rossetti's depictions of Jane Morris, Proserpine perhaps most strongly conveys Rossetti's infatuation with her archetypal 'Pre-Raphaelite' looks; rich, raven hair and long, elegant neck, and his ideals of spiritual love, nurtured by his constant reading of Dante. Unable to decide as a young man whether to concentrate on painting or poetry, his work is infused with his poetic imagination and an individual interpretation of literary sources. His accompanying sonnet to this work is a poem of longing: "And still some heart unto some soul doth pine," carrying an inescapable allusion to his yearning to seduce Jane from her unhappy marriage with William Morris. Proserpine had been imprisoned in Pluto's underground realm for tasting the forbidden pomegranate. Jane, trapped by convention, was tasting another variety of illicit fruit.
On Prosepine, Rossetti wrote:
She is represented in a gloomy corridor of her palace, with the fatal ftuit in her hand. As she passes, a gleam strikes on the wall behind her from some inlet suddenly opened, and admitting for a moment the sight of the upper world; and she glances furtively towards it, immersed in thought. The incense-burner stands beside her as the attribute of a goddess. The ivy branch in the background may be taken as a symbol of clinging memory.
The working methods of both Rossetti's and Burne-Jones's studios, as of those of the old masters, were such that it was common practice that the studio assistants were employed to block in the under-drawing for finished works. The Master then drew or painted the finished work over the studio assistant's cartoon. The following of this practise in relationship to the present work is borne out both by the letter quoted above (Doughty and Wahl, 1967) and the evidence of a condition report provided by June Wallis, where it is stated that the drawing in pastel was executed over a graphite under-drawing. The report goes on to state the fact that both the primary support and the surface of the work are in very good condition, with evidence of only minor restoration in the upper parts of the work and around the edges. This, for the most part, relates to the area where the original sheets of paper were joined together, which was Rossetti's normal practice.
The replica (wholly by Rossetti's studio assistant, Henry Treffrey Dunn) referred to in Rossetti's letter to H. T. Dunn of 17 February, 1880 is now in a private collection in Scotland.

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