Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpina (1874)

Dante Garbriel Rossetti, Proserpina (1874). 47 x 22 inches, located at the Tate Gallery in London.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was founded in 1848 by him, John Everett Millias, and William Holman Hunt. Widely considered now to be the first avant-garde movement in art, the Brotherhood was based on the idea that everything from the Italian masters Michelangelo and Raphael had been a slow decline in style and design. The Mannerists, especially, had contributed to Academic ideas about art and had moved away representing moods and emotions into a realm of style with little substance. They worshiped the more primitive styles of Fra Angelico, and his like. However, while they had great distaste for Raphael and the Mannerists, they particularly loathed Sir Joshua Reynolds of the Royal Academy in London. His own grand-manner portraiture and the history painting he taught were abominable to the Pre-Raphaelites and they hated that he was influencing the next generation of artists.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was based on four basic tenants:
1. To have genuine ideas to express
2. To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them
3. To sympathize with that which is direct, serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote
4. Most of all, to produce good pictures and statues

Though the Brotherhood would evolve as time passed, these ideals remained the same. Other figures joined the movement and, similar to the Secessionists, it became a lifestyle. Inspired by Romanticism and the Romantics like Byron and Tennyson. One could live their life in that mode. There was William Morris and his workshop creating all different types of products, all designed within the Brotherhood. This extended to clothing, household items, and also writings.

Proserpina, or Persephone as she is known in Greek mythology, is the Roman goddess who is married to Pluto/Hades, God of the underworld. She was kidnapped by Pluto as a young woman to be his bride. Her mother, the goddess Ceres/Demeter who controlled agriculture and the harvest, immediately tried to find her and rescue her but before the gods found her, Proserpina had already eaten six pomegranate seeds. The legend goes that if one eats of the food of Pluto/Hades then one can never return to the mortal plane. However, because her mother was so powerful, Proserpina was allowed to spend six months of the year on Olympus and six below in Hades. From this story come the seasons, with Fall and Winter being the months that Ceres/Demeter is without her daughter and so angry at the world, and Spring and Summer when Proserpina is returned to her and she allows the world to grow.

Rossetti has portrayed his muse Jane Burden here as Proserpina with the pomegranate a focal point of the work. Burden was married to fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Morris, and it seems that Rossetti and she might have been romantically involved. This painting is commonly thought to be an allegory for her marriage to Morris and Rossetti's plea for her to escape Morris/Pluto and live on Olympus with him. This seems to be a bit convoluted for what was surely a more simple relationship between an artist and his muse but the back story lends the drama, tragedy and Romanticizing quality that infused almost all of Rossetti's work. His other famous works include, but are not limited to: Beata Beatrix (1864-70), Astarte Syriaca (1877) and many others.

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