Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Dantis Amor 1860


This painted panel decorated one of three cupboard doors that formed the upper part of a large settle belonging to William Morris (1834-96). The subject of all three panels was Beatrice Portinari, for whom the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) nurtured an enduring but unrequited love, as recounted in the Vita Nuova. Rossetti was fascinated by Dante's story -which he translated for his own publication, The Early Italian Poets (1864) - and saw in it a parallel with his own love for Lizzie Siddal.
Dantis Amor (Dante's Love) is the central panel, symbolising Beatrice's death, which occurred between the events depicted in the other two panels, The Salutation of Beatrice in Florence and The Salutation in the Garden of Eden (both in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).
The settle was apparently painted dark red, which would have provided a rich setting for Rossetti's boldly schematic designs. Rossetti presented the two Salutation panels to Morris as a wedding present. The earthly Beatrice in the first panel was modelled on Morris's new wife Jane Burden, with whom Rossetti was also smitten. The heavenly Beatrice in Dantis Amor, however, is modelled on Lizzie Siddal. In this respect, the picture prefigures Rossetti's later visionary representation of Lizzie in Beata Beatrix (Tate N01279).
The picture is intended to depict Beatrice's death and subsequent union with Christ. The scene is divided diagonally, with the haloed figure of Christ looking down from the top left towards Beatrice, enclosed in a crescent moon and surrounded by stars. The central angel holds a sundial, as yet unfinished, but which, in the preparatory drawing (Birmingham City Art Gallery), indicates the number nine, the hour of Beatrice's death. In the drawing Rossetti also inscribed along the line of the diagonal the concluding words of Dante's Divine Comedy: 'L'AMOR QUE MVOVE IL SOLE E L'ALTRE STELLE' [the love which moves the sun and the other stars] (Paradiso xxxiii, l.145). The composition is thus intended to represent not only the death of Beatrice and her transition from earth to heaven, but the wider notion that love is the generating force of the universe.
Despite the realistic representation of the figures, the patterned background is unusually stylised, and it has been suggested that another artist may have intervened in this section of the panel. Some areas remain unfinished; for example, the crescent moon enclosing the Head of Beatrice was to have been inscribed with lines from La Vita Nuova: 'QVELLA BEATA BEATRICE CHE MIRA CONTINVAMENTE NELLA FACCIA DI COLVI' [that Blessed Beatrice who continuously gazes at Him.' The lines carry on into Christ's halo: 'QVI EST PER OMNIA SAECVLA BENEDICTVS' [Who is blessed throughout eternity].
Further reading:
Leslie Parris (ed.), The Pre-Raphaelites, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984; reprinted 1994, pp.179-80, reproduced p.180, in colour.
Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonné, 2 vols., Oxford 1971, pp.70-1, no.116, reproduced pl.172.
Andrew Wilton and Robert Upstone (eds), The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts - Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.135-6, reproduced p.135, in colour.
Frances Fowle
December 2000

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