Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Roman Widow


A beautiful Roman widow plays music beside her husband’s urn.  According to Walker Art Gallery, the marble cinerary urn is based on one Rossetti owned and the instruments were from Pompeian wall paintings.  While I don’t know exactly which images Rossetti used as his source, I did find this fresco from Pompeii via Wikimedia



Most of my favorite Rossetti paintings incorporate vivid green hues, such as Proserpine and The Day-Dream.  However, I find myself drawn to the lighter color scheme of Roman Widow.  It’s so bright and airy– not what we would consider mournful.  That is, of course, based my own modern perception.  Rossetti’s painting is historically accurate since the Romans wore white robes for mourning.  I believe that Buddhist and Asian cultures also wear white as mourning, as well as people in medieval Europe.  Here’s an interesting post about historical funeral fashion conventions.

Alexa Wilding served as the model for Roman Widow.  Her fingers seem to lightly strum the instrument in the same absentminded fashion as in Veronica Veronese.


Yet again, I think that Rossetti is using the gauzy scarf that can be seen in several of his works.

Scarf used as headdress in 'Roman Widow'
Scarf used as headdress in ‘Roman Widow’
Scarf seen in this detail from 'The Bower Meadow'. Also, note Rossetti's oft-used spiral hair pin.
Scarf seen in this detail from ‘The Bower Meadow’. Also, note Rossetti’s oft-used spiral hair pin.
Scarf seen again in this detail from 'The Blessed Damozel'.
Scarf seen again in this detail from ‘The Blessed Damozel’.
Detail from 'La Ghirlandata'
Detail from ‘La Ghirlandata’

As I mentioned in Signs of Life, I wonder if it is the same scarf or shawl visible in this 1865 photograph of Jane Morris.  I desperately want it to be the same one. Mainly because when I look at the photo, it is the blurred movement of the scarf that speaks to me.  It seems so alive, so ephemeral.









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