Sensuality and Tragedy in "Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts"



Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts served as a stepping stone for Dante Gabriel Rossetti to depart from the earlier notions of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and venture into his future studies of women that incorporated much sensuality. The PRB ideal of photographic representation does not exist in the drawing; rather, Rossetti appers to portray the subject, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, as a close impression of the actual person. The audience cannot make out a single wrinkle on her face nor are the natural lines in a person's hand present in the drawing. In addition, the flower that Elizabeth holds appears to lack the preciseness that Ruskin strongly advocated. This lack of accuracy makes it nearly impossible to tell what kind of flower Rossetti depicts, and this flower somehow blends in with Elizabeth's flowing hair and the hand that holds it.

Not only does Regina Cordium represent a departure from earlier PRB ideals and practices, but it also depicts an image of Elizabeth near the waning moments of their great love affair, which would later end in tragedy with Elizabeth's suicide. Rossetti portrays his wife as the Queen of Hearts, using a pose in which she tilts her head slightly upwards, in order to evoke the image of a playing card. Further, the monogram in the top right corner, the position of her hand, as well as the presence of the flower all reflects aspects of a playing card. Rossetti perhaps used this image of the Queen of Hearts, recognized as a romantic figure, to try to recreate the old love that the two had shared before their relationship began to deteriorate. In addition, Rossetti infuses female sensuality into the painting by drawing Elizabeth with her hair down and flowing while delicately holding a small, dainty flower.

Questions

1. The preciseness of the subject (the actual figure as well as the accessories in the portrait such as the necklace and the flower) appears somewhat diminished in Regina Cordium, Why do you think Rossetti chose to create portraits in a significantly different manner than that of the PRB style used by Millais, for example?

2. Does the use of chalk on paper give a different impression than if the work had been created using an alternative medium? Without having seen the oil painting that stemmed from this drawing, can you imagine how this drawing possesses more "directness and intensity" than the oil painting, as suggested in the accompanying text? In addition, does the medium of chalk allow more ease in creating the two-dimensional background that Rossetti intended? How so?

3. What aspects of the drawing, if they exist at all, would incline you to think this drawing indicates that the love affair between Rosetti and Elizabeth was in its final stages? Does the drawing appear to carry a discernible narrative?

4. How does Rossetti achieve two-dimensionality in this drawing? How does the use of two-dimensionality create mood and emotion here? Why would he choose to use two-dimensionality?

Related Materials


Victorian Web Overview Visual Arts Dante Gabriel Rossetti Rossetti's paintings Discussion questions for Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Last modified 7 October 2004