The Power of the Seductress: "Lady Lilith"


In Lady Lilith, Rossetti paints a woman who appears passive but nevertheless thoroughly engrossed in the mirror she holds. Lost in her thoughts, Lilith seems aware of only one thing, that her mirror reflects the image of a powerful woman, a seductress. Rossetti's placement of objects and usage of colors and texture gives the painting a sensual feel analogous to Lilith's own sexualized image.

Items in the background, such as the mirror, chair, and candles, indicate that Lilith sits within an indoor setting, however, but the infringement of flowers into the indoor space make the setting a bit more ambiguous. Nevertheless, the whole decadent and powerful spectacle allows one to see an outer depiction of Lilith's inner self.

Lilith's clothing reveals her personality. Her red lips, voluptuous body, and pale skin epitomize the ideal female form. On the other hand, her free flowing fiery red hair and nonchalance indicate the complete opposite of a refined and docile woman. As she peers into her mirror, this strong temptress is confident of this fact. Lady Lilith highlights this aspect of her personality much more than the other, since mostly everything is palely colored on her body when compared to her hair, which symbolize sexual energy, her ability to conquer any man, and her independence. Lady Lilith at first glance may appear a painting of a beautiful female lost in reverie, but under closer inspection, it turns out to represent female liberation and power.

Discussion Questions

Why did Rossetti make the scenery so ambiguous by not choosing whether to create a complete outdoor or indoor scene? Does this makes the painting more meaningful? If so, how?

How do the paintings Lady Lilith and Mariana by Millais similar? How do the two women differ? What symbolic aspects do both paintings have in common?

Do you think Lady Lilith's loose clothing and obvious sexuality were accepted in the Victorian age? Would people have responded negatively to the painting? Does it appear as though Rossetti might have taken the painting a step further or back had his audience been either more or less accepting of the subject matter? In other words, what kind of relation existsed between Rossetti, his audience, and his work?

although Lady Lilith is seen to embrace all qualities that are uniquely female, do you think her brazen mindset makes it appear as though she has taken on a masculinization of thought?

Related Materials


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

Last modified 4 October 2004