Monday, October 4, 2010

Christina Rossetti, Poet, Sister of the Pre-Raphaelites

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's work featured women in the conventional Victorian perception of either the virginal  unspoiled Madonna or the fallen woman or temptress in need of rescue by man. Never is she a player in her own right but merely the object of the viewer's gaze alone. His sister, the poet Christina Rossetti, an admirer of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, was equally captivated by medievalism and fantasy, and frequently used women in her work as did her brother, however the similarity ends there. Christina's poetry depicted women as the victims of men  and the avengers of those victims. Her fallen women are not saved by men but by their own resolve or by the assistance of other women. This remains the fundamental question that separates the two siblings work - who was it that maligned or mistreated the woman; and who was it that should deliver them their freedom and well-being?
Christina Rossetti sketched by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Pre-Raphaelites desired to instill in the art of their period a new sense of realism and symbolism, an appreciation for spiritual love, and a fascination with medievalism and British history and mythology along with their concept of the beloved. There is often love but never an expression of pure joy. Beauty is prized but it never overrides the difficulty of life. Christina's poetry likewise depicts love without happiness; love which is often painful, unfulfilled, challenging and always wronged at the hand of men. After the death of her brother Dante Gabriel, Christina lived as a recluse at home concentrating on her religious life. She died of cancer on Dec. 29, 1894.

In An Artist's Studio by Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel -- every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream. 

1 comment:

  1. I have really enjoyed this series of articles about the Pre-Raphealites...very interesting and informative; nicely written, and I've also really enjoyed the pictures. What you bring to the fore here, the difference between the male Pre-Raphealites and Christinna is very telling. I love her poem.


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