An image of Beatrice meeting Dante at a marriage feast, denies him her salutation

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

(England 12 May 1828 – 09 Apr 1882)

Beatrice meeting Dante at a marriage feast, denies him her salutation

Not on display
Further information

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the main intellectual force behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), formed in 1848, which during its brief existence affected a revolution in British painting. The important members were Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Ford Madox Brown never became a member of the PRB, but acted as mentor and supporter.

The true Pre-Raphaelite period was brief, lasting from the formation of the brotherhood in 1848 until its effective disbanding in c.1852. The movement retained a certain consistency until c.1865, but after this its importance was mainly through its influence on a new generation of painters.

Rossetti exhibited only two oil paintings during the PRB period. Discouraged by adverse criticism he turned almost exclusively to painting in watercolours. It was in this medium that he produced a series of highly imaginative works based on literary and historical subjects, most commonly set in the middle ages.

Rossetti was a highly literary man who read deeply in Shakespeare, Keats, Browning and above all Dante. In 1848 he completed his translation of Dante's 'Vita Nuova', and intended to complete 13 watercolours illustrating episodes from the poet's life. In fact he seems only to have finished a very small portion of them. Today only four are recorded, including the present work.

The picture shows Dante dressed in a full-length red tunic and leaning on a wall frescoed with light blue angels. A small girl wearing a gold coloured dress offers him flowers. Directly behind her is the figure of Beatrice flanked by two dark-haired bridesmaids. Beatrice is walking in a bridesmaid's procession towards the wedding feast. Dante gazes at his beloved as she passes but she looks haughtily at him. When the present watercolour was first exhibited in 1852, the catalogue carried an abbreviated passage from the 'Vita Nuova', describing the subject of the work.

Rossetti's father was a scholar of Dante. The artist often identified himself with the poet whose name he shared. And Beatrice became for him the poetic counterpart of his lover Elizabeth Siddall who by this date was living with him. She was the model for the figure of Beatrice in this watercolour. Later she was immortalised in Rossetti's famous 'Beata Beatrix' which commemorates her tragic and self-inflicted death in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum.

When it was exhibited in 1852 the present watercolour attracted the admiration of the great critic, John Ruskin: "I am very much delighted with a sketch of Rossetti's in the Winter Exhibition Beatrice and Dante - a most glorious piece of colour. The breadth of the blue-green - and fragmentary gold is a perfect feast" (Ruskin to Holman Hunt, 9 January 1853). Such was his admiration that he shortly afterwards acquired a second version of this watercolour painted in 1855 which is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

watercolour and bodycolour with gum and scraping out over traces of pencil
35.1 x 42.5 cm image/sheet (irreg.); 61.0 x 68.0 x 2.5 cm frame
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Purchased with funds provided by John Schaeffer 2003
Accession number
Mr and Mrs Cecil Charrington, England, 3. then by descent to Mrs David (later Lady) Sells
Mrs Ernest Charrington, England, 2. Mrs Hadley, daughter of Henry Tanworth Wells; then by descent to Mr and Mrs Cecil Charrington
Henry Tanworth Wells RA, 1852, England, 1. From the artist to Henry Tanworth Wells, RA, 1852; then by descent to his daughter Mrs Ernest Charrington
Mrs David Sells, pre 08 Jun 1999, England, 4. Sold Sotheby's London, 8 June 1999, lot 21
Private Collection, post 08 Jun 1999, 5. Purchased Sotheby's London, 8 June 1999, lot 21 (£221,500)
Hirschl & Adler, New York, pre 01 Dec 2003, New York/New York/United States of America, 6. Purchased by the AGNSW from Hirschl & Adler 2003