Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Beata Beatrix (1864-1870)


(Tate Britain, London, UK)
A painting by the British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). This piece is the combination of a portrait and a scene from an Italian poem. The central figure is Beatrice Portinari (1265-1290), a Florentine woman who was the main source of inspiration of the poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) - the title of the painting translates as ''Blessed Beatrice'. Dante saw Beatrice only twice but was so affected by the meetings that he carried his love for her throughout his life and used her in several of his works. This scene comes from his 'La Vita Nuova' (= 'the new life') which is a collection of poems about his (courtly) love for Beatrice. Beatrice herself died in 1290 at the age of 24 and her death is the subject of a poem in the La Vita Nuova. Rossetti stated that the painting is "not as a representation of the incident of the death of Beatrice, but as an ideal of the subject, symbolized by a trance or sudden spiritual transfiguration". She is shown in an attitude of ecstasy, with her hands before her and her lips parted, as if she is about to receive Communion. The gray and green colours of her cloths represent the colours of hope and sorrow as well as of love and life. Next to Beatrice is a red dove (the Holy Spirit) with a opium poppy in its beak. Also next to Beatrice is a sundial which casts its shadow over the number nine - a reference to the time of death of Beatrice who died at nine o'clock on 9th June 1290. The two figures at the background are Dante who is looking across at Love who is portrayed as an angel dressed in red (colour of passion) with in her hand the flickering flame of Beatrice's life. Next to Dante is also a well, the symbol of rebirth. In the background of the painting a bridge can be seen - this is either the Ponte Vecchio in Florence or the Blackfriars Bridge in Londen (Rossetti lived near that bridge). The painting itself is also a portrait of Elizabeth Siddall (1829-1862), the wife and frequent model of Rossetti. Elizabeth Siddall (nicknamed 'the dove' by her husband) died in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum (a tincture of opium which is very addictive). Rossetti made several copies of this painting Painting from 1864-1870.

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