Symbolism in Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Bolor Jargalsaikhan 13 January 2018 min Read

[caption id="attachment_8171" align="aligncenter" width="620"]D.G.Rossetti Beata Beatrix c.1864-70 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Symbolism in Beata Beatrix Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, c.1863-70, Tate Britain[/caption] Rossetti started Beata Beatrix in 1863 after the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal (1829-62). The painting illustrates the last chapter of Medieval Florentine writer Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)'s poem La Vita Nuova (1295). The female figure is of the writers' beloved muse Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290) and was portrayed after Siddal. Rossetti ties the two love stories, one of Beatrice and Dante, and the other of Siddal and Rossetti, through symbolism, delineating their short and tragic marriage.   [caption id="attachment_8273" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Photo of Elizabeth Siddal Photo of Elizabeth Siddal[/caption]

Story of Dante and Beatrice

Beatrice Portinari, the Florentine socialite and a daughter of a wealthy banker, was the principal muse and greatest love of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Not much information about her biography has survived for our reference, and most of what we know of her comes from the works of Dante. According to the writer, their relationship was an embodiment of romanticism. In Medieval terms, it was a Courtly love, which is often secret, unrequited and considered being a highly respectful form of admiration for somebody. But by modern day standards, the relationship was technically non-existent. It was said that he met her only two times in his entire life: the first time when Dante was just nine-year-olds, but it didn’t stop him to fall in love with her; second and final time, eight years later in a street when they barely exchanged modest salutations in the Florentine street. But the elusive image of Beatrice, Dante carried throughout the years, inspired the writer to create his most important works. His autobiographical text La Vita Nuova is filled with love letters to her and, subsequently, concludes with a mourning verse of her death; in Divine Comedy (1308-1320), she appears as a heavenly spirit who caused and guided him through his trip to the afterlife.Dante refers to her as ‘my savior’, for the courteous and noble feelings he experiences for her guides him towards what’s divine and perfect. That’s why he also calls her the ‘glorious lady of my mind’, for the idea of a perfect Beatrice exists only inside the writers head. In real life, Beatrice married another banker in 1287, and Dante had a family of his own too. Three years later she died at the age of twenty-four.

Siddal and Rossetti

[caption id="attachment_8229" align="aligncenter" width="531"]Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Elizabeth_Siddal_(study_for_Delia) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, Study for "Delia" in "The Return of Tibullus to Delia", 1860-62, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge[/caption] The story of Rossetti and Elizabeth is one of romance, obsession, and tragic. Rossetti has always identified Siddal with Beatrice, since the very beginning of their relationship. This identification, however, took a chilling turn when Siddal died in February 1862, repeating the fate of Beatrice herself.

Symbolism in Beata Beatrix

[caption id="attachment_8230" align="aligncenter" width="540"]Red dove in Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, c.1863-70, Tate Britain Section from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, c.1863-70, Tate Britain[/caption] The dove, the standard symbol of Love, appears as a messenger of death, bearing in its beaks a white poppy, which stands for sleep or death, perhaps also a reference to opium; Siddal had died as the result of a laudanum overdose. Right above the dove is a sundial pointing at number nine associated with Beatrice’s death in La Vita Nuova, which occurred at nine o’clock on 9th June 1290. The moody light and hazy atmosphere create a halo-like aureole, and together with the beatific expression on her face, suggests her ‘sudden spiritual transfiguration’, as quoted by Rossetti. Behind the figure, a dim silhouette of a bridge disappears in a glowing light; this has often been identified as the Ponte Vecchio in Dante’s Florence. But it is vague enough to be doubled as Blackfriars bridge in London, next to which Siddal and Rossetti lived during their marriage. Finally, the two figures at the back, of Dante on the right, and of Love, symbolized by color red and holding a flame, on the left. Some say Rossetti’s painting celebrates love in its most beatific form, like Dante. Because, alas, it was something Rossetti exercised best in art, rather than in real life.

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