La Donna Della Finestra
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Coloured chalks on 2 sheets of buff paper, and signed with a monogram
133 x 28 inches, 83.9 x 71.2 cm.
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Commentary by Hilary Morgan
Love's pallor and the semblance of deep ruth
Were neveryet shown forth so perfectly
In any lady's face, chancing to see
Grief's miserable countenance uncouth,
As in thine, lady, they have sprung to soothe,
When in mine anguish thou hast lookd on me;
Until sometimes it seems as if, through thee,
My heart might almost wanderfrom its truth.
Yet so it is, I cannot hold mine eyes
From gazing very often upon thine.
In the sore hope to shed those tears they keep;
And at such time, thou mask'st the pent tears rise
Even to the brim, till the eyes wast and pine;
Yet cannot they, while thou art present, weep.
The subject of 'La Donna della Finestra' derives from Dante's autobiographical Vita Nuova, the book that did most to shape Rossetti's attitudes to love. It tells, in a symbolical and mystical fashion, the history of Dante's love for Beatrice. Rossetti translated it into English around 1850 and published it with other translations from the Early Italian poets in 1861. The Vita Nuova inspired Rossetti's paintings and designs throughout his career. He first treated 'La Donna della Finestra' in 1870 and from this date it became one of his favourite Dante subjects.
The figure of the Woman at the Window appears when Dante is sunk deep in grief for the death of Beatrice. Dante speaks;
'Then, having sat for some space sorely in thought because of the time that was now past, I was filled with dolorous imaginings that it became outwardly manifest in mine altered countenance. Whereupon, feeling this and being in dread lest any should have seen me, I lifted my eyes to look; and then perceived a young and very beautiful lady, who was gazing upon me from a window with a gaze full of pity, so that the very sum of pity appeared gathered together in her'.
In the usual allegorical interpretation of the Vita Nuova, the lady represents Philosophy, but Rossetti had no intention of representing an abstract personification and regarded the vision as a real woman. In the words of William Michael Rossetti:
'Humanly she is the Lady at the Window; mentally she is the Lady of Pity. This interpretation of soul and body — this sense of an equal and undefensible reality of the thing symbolized, and of the form which conveys the symbol — this externalism and internalism — are constantly to be understood as the key-note of Rossetti's aim and performance in art. (3)
The sitter for this work was Jane Morris, with whom Rossetti fell in love in about 1868. It is significant that he chose to represent her as 'La Donna Della Finestra', suggesting that he felt she brought him consolation for the death of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, whom he regarded as his Beatrice. Yet as Rossetti's love for Jane deepened he represented her as Beatrice also, for instance in the large oil painting 'Dante's Dream at the time of the Death of Beatrice' (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).
The owner of the present drawing was William Graham, who was, with Frederick Leyland, Rossetti's most important patron. He began to buy from Rossetti in the mid 1860s, but was not just important as a purchaser. His fine collection of early Italian paintings — (the original Pre-Raphaelites) helped to inspire Rossetti and the other artists whom Graham supported including Edward Burne-Jones. An insight into the scope of Graham's collection is given by the catalogue of his posthumous sale at Christies April 1886, and it is currently being researched by Oliver Garnett. Graham owned a number of works by Rossetti. When they came onto the market, in 1874 and 1885 respectively, Graham grasped the opportunity and bought his two Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood oils, 'Ecce Ancilla Domini' (1850) and 'The Girlhood of Mary Virgin' (1849) both now in the Tate Gallery. He also commissioned the large 'Dante's Dream', although this ultimately proved too big for his London House. Graham regarded the present drawing with particular affection, writing to Rossetti in 1879, 'I must add one line to say how much I was charmed with the "Donna della Finestra" which I look at as one of your most successful single figures'. The second owner of the drawing, Major C.S. Goldman, was Burne-Jones's neighbour in Rottingdean in the 1890s. His son changed his surname to Monck.
Provenance: William Graham; Major C.S. Goldman; Miss Alice Goldman; by descent to her nephew, John Monck; Christies, 16th November 1965, lot 19; Mrs S. Oliver
- Dante, Vita Nuova, from the translation by D G Rossetti. D G Rossetti, The Collected Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (Ellis and Scrutton, London 1886), volume 2, page 85
- H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, (George Bell and Sons, London 1899), pages 160, 197 and 256, catalogue number 294
- In the 1870s, Graham commissioned the two large oils 'Laus Veneris' (Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery) and 'Chant d'Amour' (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which were the most important items in a large collection of Burne-Jones's work, formed from the mid-1860s. Perhaps his most individual commission was the 'Graham piano', painted by Burne-Jones for Graham's daughter Frances (Mrs. Horner). See: 0 Garnett, 'William Graham e altri committenti di Burne-Jones' in Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, 1986, Burne-Jones, (catalogue of the exhibition by Maria Teresa Benedetti), pages 86-92.
- Manuscript letter from Graham to Rossetti,. I I November 18 79, Library of the University of British Columbia, Canada.
- Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 23.
- Newcastle upon Tyne., Laing Art Gallery, 1971, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Catalogue of the exhibition by Alastair Grieve), pages 9 and 32
- Other versions of the present work include a finished oil of 1879 (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, Surtees catalogue number 255) and two chalk studies of 1870 (Surtees catalogue numbers 255A and 255D)
- Virginia Surtees, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882, The Paintings and Drawings, A Catalogue Raisonne, (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1971), page 152, catalogue number 255E
- William Graham, Manuscript letter to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 11th November, 1879
- W.M. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer, (Cassell, London 1889), page 108
Last modified 23 May 2006