In her poem, "In an Artist's studio," Christina Rossetti responds to the tendency of Victorian poets to objectify women in their experiment with aestheticism. Her poem recalls Robert Browning's "Andrea del Sarto" in which a male artist pretends to possess his estranged wife by having her pose as his model. This poem also recalls Pygmalian of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a misogynist sculptor who chisels the perfect female and becomes so enamored with his own creation that he asks the gods to bring her to life. Like the artist of Rossetti's poem, Pygmalian essentially falls in love with himself and his own projections and ideas about women. In Rossetti's poem, the artist conceives of his female subject as a passive, emotionless object which he can mold to fit his own fantasies and projections. The description of the female subject is consistent with the stereotypical Victorian view of female patience, passivity and selflessness. The image of the artist "feeding" upon his subject's face refers to the male desire to possess women as wholly aesthetic objects.
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 or 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.
What is the effect of the emphasis on "one" in the lines beginning with "One face", "One selfsame figure"?
Who is the "we" speaking in this poem?
Are the categories of subject matter which the artist portrays meant to represent categories to which women are typically assigned in Victorian society? What is the "same one meaning" the speaker refers to?
How is the depiction of the woman in the painting recall Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess"?
Interpret the significance of the sight lines in the poem: "One face looks out," "She with true kind eyes looks back on him."
Notice how the male artist never actually looks at his subject. He only devours and "feeds upon her face." What is the effect of the verb "fills" in the context of "she fills his dream"?
Last modified 19 October 2003