Proserpine (Rossetti Painting)

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

While Dante Gabriel Rosetti created several works of art, the one that most people are likely to recognize is Proserpine. This painting is one of his best-known and beloved pieces. However, despite the beautiful image, Rossetti's style was not universally popular.

He was influenced by Victorian painting and preferred the traditional style. This masterpiece is a perfect example of the Romantic movement and has a wide range of interpretations. In this article, we will explore the meaning of Proserpine, the betrothal to Pluto, and the dress of Proserpine.

One of the original paintings now hangs in Tate Britain. However, Rossetti often created a replica of his paintings to ensure its authenticity. While there are several versions of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has the only one with an intact replica of the 1874 original.

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Proserpine

Dante Gabriel Rossetti began work on Proserpine in 1871. The artist completed at least eight versions of the painting before his death in 1882. The painting is so famous that it is often referred to as the "Two Madonnas." The artist first began the work using chalks.

Although it was never exhibited during Rossetti's lifetime, it is still known to have been sold to a wealthy art collector who bought the work for £1,600. While drawing the painting, Rossetti was also influenced by the life and times of Jane Morris.

Jane was the daughter of a local groom and her upbringing was humble, but she enchanted Rossetti and his fellow artists. Jane became the model for the painting Proserpine. However, Rossetti was not the only artist inspired by Jane, as his paintings of Jane and Penelope are often characterized as 'non-existent' women.

A version in colored chalks, dated 1880.

A version in colored chalks, dated 1880

What Rossetti wrote about Proserpine

"She is represented in a gloomy corridor of her palace, with the fatal fruit in her hand. As she passes, a gleam strikes on the wall behind her from some inlet suddenly opened, and admitting for a moment the sight of the upper world; and she glances furtively towards it, immersed in thought. The incense-burner stands beside her as the attribute of a goddess. The ivy branch in the background may be taken as a symbol of clinging memory."

Proserpine Betrothal to Pluto

In Greek mythology, Proserpine is the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres. Proserpine was kidnapped by the god Pluto while picking flowers. After she is abducted by Pluto.

Ceres then searches for her daughter and finds her, only to find out that she has been taken to Pluto's realms of the night. In this way, Proserpine becomes Pluto's reluctant bride.

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The original Greek and Roman texts place Proserpine's betrayal to Pluto in the context of their respective family trees. Her betrothal to Pluto is broken by Jupiter, who refuses to let Pluto have Proserpine.

Instead, he tells Proserpine to go back to her mother, who then eats the pomegranate seed. However, Proserpine is unable to stay away from Pluto forever, and she spends only two-thirds of her year with her mother.

In Greek mythology, Proserpine's betrothal to Pluto arose from the birth of Saturn. Her parents were Ops, the goddess of the earth, and Saturn, ruler of the cosmos. Jupiter also freed her siblings, Neptune, the lord of all waters, and Juno, the matron goddess.

Proserpine Dress

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting, Proserpine, is seminal to his artistic output and is essential to understanding the direction of his career. The dress was inspired by the myth of Proserpine, which depicts a captive bride held in the underworld by the enchantment of pomegranates.

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Proserpine is forced to remain in the underworld after eating six seeds of a pomegranate. The story, attributed to Homer, is a classic example of Rossetti's talent for imaginative dressmaking.

The painting's underlying melancholy tension can be attributed to the women's unnaturally long neck and hands, which are set in unbalanced positions. The dress is difficult to hold in this pose, and its irregular surface and creepy edges seem to suggest a certain unease in the wearer.

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Pieta by Michelangelo
Pieta by Michelangelo

The ridges are similar to the tendrils of ivy in the background. Ivy is a common element in graveyards and is associated with death. Rossetti interpreted ivy as symbolic of clinging memory.

The lush greenery in the background of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rosetti swells her dress in a way that evokes feelings of grief and loss. Instead of natural folds, the dress is covered in creeping ridges, much like the tendrils of ivy in the background.

Rossetti's eighth and final version of Proserpine

Rossetti's eighth and final version of Proserpine

Proserpine Sonnet by DG Rossetti

Rossetti crafted a sonnet to accompany the painting, interpreting the story in his own words.

The sonnet appears on the painting's edge and in Italian. While Proserpine is the heroine of the poem, it is important to remember that the poem was inspired by the life of Jane Morris.

Rossetti Sonnet:

"Afar away the light that brings cold cheer Unto this wall, – one instant and no more Admitted at my distant palace-door Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.

Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey That chills me: and afar how far away, The nights that shall become the days that were.

Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign: And still some heart unto some soul doth pine, (Whose sounds mine inner sense in fain to bring, Continually together murmuring) — 'Woe me for thee, unhappy Proserpine'." — D. G. Rossetti

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