This is a replica of the Beata Beatrix that Rossetti painted as a memorial to his wife Lizzie Siddal, who died of a laudanum overdose on 11 February 1862. Begun many years before, the original visionary portrait was taken up again in 1864 and completed in 1870. The iconography in this Painting is dense, fusing the artist's personal experience with legendary anti literary sources.
During the initial stages of the painting, Rossetti explained the imagery:
'The picture illustrates the Vita Nuova, embodying symbolically the death of Beatrice as treated in that work. The picture is not intended at all to represent death, but to render it under the semblance of a trance, in which Beatrice, seated at a balcony overlooking the city, is suddenly rapt from Earth to Heaven. You will remember how Dante dwells on the desolation of the city in connection with the incident of her death, and for this reason I have introduced it as my background, and made the figures of Dante and Love passing through the street anti gazing
ominously on one another, conscious of the event; while the bird, a messenger of death, drops the poppy between the hands of Beatrice. She, through her shut lids, is conscious of a world, as expressed in the last words of the Vita Nuova: "That blessed Beatrice who now gazeth continually on His countenance, who is through all ages blessed."'
Intensely emotional for a secular painting, this painting is the immortalization of a woman as almost a spiritual icon. This type of imagery was anticipated in Rossetti's 1857 wood engraving Saint Cecilia in its configuration, as well as in motifs such as the dove and the sundial. The pose was first apparent in the 1851 sketches for his erotic watercolor The Return of Tibullus to Delia (1853; Private collection). It is not
known whether Lizzie naturally assumed the pose or Rossetti decided to position her in this way.
In 1871 William Graham wrote to Rossetti begging for a replica:
'I know the labor of repeating, apart from the delight of invention and the surprise of your discovery, is especially hard to your temperament...the Beatrice, from the first day I saw it, has appealed to my feeling altogether above and beyond any picture I ever saw, and the love for it has only deepened.'
An interesting note: when Rossetti married Lizzie he was busy on their honeymoon- Not what YOU think, though. He sketched this ominous picture, entitled, "How They Met Themselves", featuring a bride's death at the altar:
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