A Broken Bridge to Heaven; Rossetti's "The Blessed Damozel"


Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting The Blessed Damozel presents an image of Heaven contrary to the Christian vision, an image of sorrow and longing even in a divine realm. In the upper portion of the painting, a contemplative woman leans over a railing towards her earthly lover, who is depicted in the lower portion. The man lies on his back on the forest floor, looking upwards, his hands clasped above his head. The painting is generally dark; the woman's face, clothes, and flowers are well lit, whereas the pairs of united lovers behind her are much darker. The man's face and hands are the brightest points of the lower portion, and appear as if they are illuminated by the light of the dead lover. In the original poem, Rossetti writes mainly about the woman, with occasional, parenthetical verses about the man, who senses signs of his lover's attentions in the world around him. The side-by-side views of the lovers in both the painting and the poem invoke a similar idea to Rossetti's idea about time, expressed in "Troy Town" and Helen of Troy , for example. Just as those works show the essential unity of two temporally separate moments, The Blessed Damozel unites, or at least connects, the Heaven and earth, life and death.

Questions

1. At the top of the heaven, we see pairs of united lovers, but there is no direct trace of God's presence in the painting. What message does this depiction suggest about love and religion? Is human love replacing divine love, or supplementing it? What evidence does the painting supply for an interpretation?

2. What is the relevance of the three female figures below the woman? Why does Rossetti place them between the lovers?

3. Are there any apparent details in the lower portion of the painting that display the woman's influence?

4. The painting consists of four segments, arranged vertically: the united lovers, the woman, the three angels, and the male lover, from top to bottom. What effect does this have on the painting's significance? On the way the viewer approaches it?

5. How does the expression of the woman compare to women in paintings such as Astarte Syriaca or Veronica Veronese ? How does Rossetti attribute different moods to these women?


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Last modified 4 October 2004