On display

Proserpine (1874)

In his Proserpine, Rossetti illustrates in his typical Pre-Raphaelite style the Roman goddess who lives in the underworld during Winter. Although Rossetti inscribed on the date 1874 on the picture, he worked for seven years on eight separate canvases before he finished with it. His Proserpine, like his model Jane Morris, is an exquisitely beautiful woman, with delicate facial features, slender hands, and flawlessly pale skin set off by her thick raven hair. Rossetti painted it at a time when his mental health was extremely precarious and his love for Jane Morris was at its most obsessive.

The symbolism in Rossetti's painting poignantly indicates Proserpine's plight, as well as Jane Morris's plight, torn between her husband, the father of her two adored daughters, and her lover. The pomegranate draws the viewer's eye, the colour of its flesh matching the colour of Proserpine's full lips. The ivy behind her, as Rossetti stated, represents clinging memory and the passing of time; the shadow on the wall is her time in Hades, the patch of sunlight, her glimpse of earth. Her dress, like spilling water, suggests the turning of the tides, and the incense burner denotes the subject as an immortal. Proserpine's saddened eyes, which are the same cold blue color as most of the painting, indirectly stare at the other realm. Overall, dark hues characterize the color scheme of the piece.