The Girlhood of Mary Virgin: A Look Forward


Created when he was 20 years old, the Girlhood of Mary Virgin was the first of Rossetti's paintings which displayed the initials of the PRB. The Girlhood of Mary Virgin is a deeply religious painting that uses extensive Christian iconography, such as the symbolically colored books, the lilies which indicated purity, the dove which signified the Holy Spirit, as well as the red cloak, which alluded to the cloak of Christ. This work was a highly personal painting for Rossetti since the Virgin Mary and St. Anne were modeled after Rossetti's own mother and sister. In addition, he included two sonnets that explain symbolism in the painting. This painting appears to be created with an older technique as it employs angular construction and interspersed bright colors, reminiscent of paintings in the pre-Victorian era. The painting itself appears to have an overall stagnant and dull look to it with its use of subdued tones, with the few exceptions of the cape, the tapestry, and the angel's wings. Nevertheless, the painting commands attention with its fine attention to detail, allegorical and otherwise.

Discussion Questions

Why did Rossetti choose to create an image of Mary in which she appears to be almost stoic as she gazes into the space in front of her. Does her detachment from the scene serve a symbolic purpose?

although both The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini by Rossetti create a scene in which both Mary and Gabriel are present, how are these two paintings dissimilar in the type of effect they create? What are common symbolic aspects of both paintings and what purpose do they serve?

It appears as though some of the externalities of the painting are encroaching on the internal space, such as the vine which appears to be infiltrating the room in which Mary and St. Anne are needle pointing. What purpose, if any, does this serve?

It is no surprise that Rossetti wished for this painting to convey a clear symbolic purpose. Had the accompanying poem, "Mary's Girlhood," not been included, would this painting have been as rich in its allegorical message? Why do you suppose Rossetti paid such close attention to the symbolism in this painting and in the poem?


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Last modified 4 October 2004