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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, 1848-1849
oil on canvas
Tate Britain
no copyright infringement intended

et ait Maria magnificat anima mea Dominum
et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo
quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes
quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est et sanctum nomen eius
et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies timentibus eum
fecit potentiam in brachio suo dispersit superbos mente cordis sui
deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles
esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes
suscepit Israhel puerum suum memorari misericordiae
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros Abraham et semini eius in saecula

William Bell Scott saw Girlhood in progress in Hunt's studio and remarked on young Rossetti's technique: He was painting in oils with water-colour brushes, as thinly as in water-colour, on canvas which he had primed with white till the surface was a smooth as cardboard, and every tint remained transparent. I saw at once that he was not an orthodox boy, but acting purely from the aesthetic motive. The mixture of genius and dilettantism of both men shut me up for the moment, and whetted my curiosity.

The following two sonnets (the first telling the history described by Rossetti's work, the second explaining the symbols used in the painting)  are inscribed beside each other on the bottom of the frame:


This is that blessed Mary, pre-elect
God's Virgin. Gone is a great while, and she
Was young in Nazareth of Galilee.
Her kin she cherished with devout respect:

Her gifts were simpleness of intellect
And supreme patience. From her mother's knee
Faithful and hopeful; wise in charity;
Strong in grave peace; in duty circumspect.

So held she through her girlhood; as it were
 An angel-watered lily, that near God
Grows, and is quiet. Till one dawn, at home,

She woke in her white bed, and had no fear
At all, yet wept till sunshine, and felt awed;
Because the fulness of the time was come.


These are the symbols. On that cloth of red
I' the centre, is the Tripoint, perfect each
Except the second of its points, to teach
That Christ is not yet born. The books (whose head

Is golden Charity, as Paul hath said)
Those virtues are wherein the soul is rich:
Therefore on them the lily standeth, which
Is Innocence, being interpreted.

The seven-thorned briar and the palm seven-leaved
Are her great sorrows and her great reward
Until the time be full, the Holy One

Abides without. She soon shall have achieved
Her perfect purity: yea, God the Lord
Shall soon vouchsafe His Son to be her Son.

Sonnet form: abba abba cde cde


(Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

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