Proserpine was a theme that British artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, revisited on several occasions. This oil painting is his most famous contribution and was completed in 1874. You can now find it in the Tate Britain in London, UK.
This famous artwork summarises the career of Rossetti particularly well. The theme is typical of his career, with a pale skinned young model posing in a classical setting. There is also a short poem written into the top right of the canvas which outlines the artist's other love. He was torn between whether he considered himself first and foremost a painter or a poet, though the two often influences the other right across his career. Literature was particularly significant to artists from the Pre-Raphaelite period, with Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott being amongst the best example of this.
The artist wished to perfect his depiction of this Roman goddess and consequently produced eight versions of the same theme in a variety of different mediums. Some were in coloured chalks, and perhaps were intended more as study pieces for his oil paintings. The artist was known to be obsessing about one of his models at this time, Jane Morris, and his behaviour would become more and more undignified as he mental health suffered during this time. Perhaps he saw her within this work and that could explain his decision to complete the same topic over and over again.
The various versions created by artist Rossetti came right at the end of his life, marking a decline in his health from which he would sadly never recover. There is a clear connection here between his own romantic problems and also the very nature of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which itself was devoted to similar themes. The painting found here was signed DANTE GABRIELE ROSSETTI RITRASSE NEL CAPODANNO DEL 1874, marking its completion date, but the artist continued to produce versions along this theme right up until 1882. Rossetti also produced several versions of along themes, such as Beata Beatrix.
Afar away the light that brings cold cheer
Unto this wall, – one instant and no more
Admitted at my distant palace-door
Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear
Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.
Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey
That chills me: and afar how far away,
The nights that shall become the days that were.
Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing
Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign:
And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,
(Whose sounds mine inner sense in fain to bring,
Continually together murmuring) —
'Woe me for thee, unhappy Proserpine'.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote this poem in Italian on the canvas and the English translation included here was added onto the painting's frame. (The artist was fluent in both English and Italian and regularly carried out translation tasks in order to supplement his income.)