Wednesday, March 23, 2005


In my last post, I mentioned that Rossetti's women all had a smiliar look about them. Because it was spiteful, there is no need to revisit what I thought that similar look was. What I would like to revisit is who this young woman was who had young Dante so enamoured that he spent his time obsessively painting her. As it turns out, I remembered correctly. He did have a muse - Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862). Like all good muses, she died young, leaving her swain able to idealize her to his heart's content without ever having to contend with her face becoming lined, her voice raspy from years of smoking, or her breasts so saggy she could sling them over her shoulders like a continental soldier. (Just as an aside, this reminds me of the day I had a co-worker completely convinced that the original lyrics to "Do your ears hang low" were "Do your boobs hang low" until they were changed by pressure from the censors, but back to the creative muse).

Of course, I do realize that there is more to love and creativity than the manipulation of a muse, but it is notable just how many 19th century artists and poets had such a muse. Having written my Master's thesis on constructions of femininity and the Artists's use of the muse as a reflection of his own idealized concept of the Feminine, it's been a special interest of mine for quite some time. This still does not, however, stop me from appreciating the beauty of these paintings or the sentiments that engendered them. In fact, as I've grown older, I've become able to appreciate the concept of a love that inspires in such a way much more than I did in my 20's.

When I first began studying the subject, it was in the shadow of articles by feminist theorists. While they have some validity, they also tend to weigh heavily on the side of the artist manipulating the image of the female in order to serve as a conduit for his own ideas of femininity rather than his art immortalizing her as she really was (i.e. the feminine as empty vessel). Now I am able to view such things as possessing more complexity. I suppose that is one of the perks of growing up.

Either way, there are some fascinating muse stories out there. One of the most interesting I've encountered is that of Charlotte Stieglitz. Perhaps one day I will write about her here. Another is the young girl who inspired Novalis' Hymnen an die Nacht. And, of course, there is always the story of Orpheus and Eurydiche, which has always been among my favorite Classical tales along with the stories of Cupid and Psyche and also Pygmalion.

At any rate, I think that my last post perhaps gave Dante Gabriel Rossetti short schrift. I was reminded of just how lovely Rossetti's work is in researching who his muse was. For more information on Rossetti visit The Rossetti Archive
, which offers extensive information about artist and his works.

No comments: