|La Bella Mano (1875) Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
As we are running out of days I thought it might be nice to have a bit of a blow-out on Rossetti and his feathered friends, as they cropped up a lot in his art, sometimes when you're not paying attention. For example, I can't remember if I had noticed that the two little attendants in La Bella Mano (modelled by May Morris) were actually little angels with red wings. Mind you, everything in this picture has wings, including the golden snitch tea urn, sorry, the samovar. Here we have Rossetti creating a blend between spiritual and earthly - Venus is washing with the help of her rather angelic attendants. When I look at Rossetti's art I do often get the impression that he creates a reality of his own, a cocktail of different religions and beliefs until he has the perfect blend of Venus and the Virgin Mary for him to worship. In many ways, La Bella Mano is very much like Astarte Syriaca in composition - a woman and her attendants - just in a different key, as it were...
|Astarte Syriaca (1877)|
|La Ghirlandata (1873)|
Rossetti routinely showed women flanked by angels, which were tiny (or not so tiny) versions of themselves. Women are watched over, protected, impenetrable - well, maybe not the last one, what with the annunciation and all that. But if we consider Rossetti's compositional (it's a word, honest) motif of a woman, a beautiful woman, guarded by protectresses, then what about this?
|The Beloved or The Bride (1865-6)|
If you took the two woman shoved at the back of the picture out and maybe sent the little chap at the front off to the bar to buy a lemonade, this wedding photo would be less crowded and would be Rossetti's 'guarded woman' image. Instead of wings, the women on either side of the bride are holding flowers, but their attitudes are very similar to the attendants in La Bella Mano and La Ghirlandata.
|Dante's Dream on the Day of the Death of Beatrice (1880)|
So what about these two? Alexa Wilding and Marie Stillman are holding the cloth above Jane Morris, and are there as her guards. They have no wings, but there is no doubt that their presence is as protectors of the heavenly Beatrice. The women in green contrast well with Love, in red, and looking at the pictures above, red and green, especially green, are Rossetti's colours. In the 1856 watercolour of Dante's Dream, Love is in blue but the handmaidens are still in green. By the 1880 redo, the whole palate has become more russet and autumnal with only the green ladies providing contrast. They are noticeable because they are contrasting and we are meant to notice them. What good is protection if you cannot see it?
|The Blessed Damozel (1875-8)|
|The Blessed Damozel (again) (1879)|
A pair of heavenly ladies, gazing down from heaven. Painted only a year apart in the end, The Blessed Damozel is another woman with heavenly escort, only this time she is heavenly too. Possibly this is the natural continuation from the Dante and Beatrice story - he sees her, he loves her, she dies, then she gazes down from heaven awaiting him. Under our 'blessed damozel' are her angels - in the first picture there are three below, or rather two and a wing-y head, with acres of snogging couples above. That's a depressing party indeed where everyone else has someone for the slow dance except you. I still can't listen to Jennifer Rush's The Power of Love without feeling bitter and alone. Anyway, by the do-over, Rossetti has just left two angels below our lady, with the wing-y head thing weirdly floating off on the upper right. The woman and two angel motif makes the picture more satisfying for me as it fits beautifully in the visual language of Rossetti. She could be La Ghirlandata, she could be La Bella Mano. For Rossetti, three was definitely a magic number.
Yesterday was a bit grim and I got a request from a dear friend on Twitter for an angelic muff to brighten things up. Your wish is my command...
William Morris endorses this muff-toting angel. However - 'swiftlier'? Oh, go on then, it is Christmas...
See you tomorrow.