Rossetti acted as Lizzie’s teacher and mentor, but I do not feel that this aspect of their relationship was one-sided. I prefer to view their time together as one of collaboration and believe that they influenced each other in an artistic and symbiotic flow. A good example of this is Siddal’s painting Lady Affixing a Pennant and Rossetti’s painting Before the Battle. Both works have identical subjects, presented in a medieval style. In these paintings we see women attaching banners or pennants to knight’s spears in preparation for battle.
It was well known within their circle of friends that Lizzie and Gabriel referred to each other by the pet name of “Guggums”. Ford Madox Brown wrote about this curious nickname and Rosseti’s obsessive drawing of his beloved “Guggums”:
“Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking thinner and more deathlike and more beautiful and more ragged than ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year. Gabriel as usual diffuse and inconsequent in his work. Drawing wonderful and lovely Guggums one after another, each one a fresh charm, each one stamped with immortality, and his picture never advancing.”
In another entry, Ford Madox Brown said that Rossetti showed him “a drawer full of ‘Guggums’, God knows how many, but not bad work, I should say, for the six years he had known her; it is like a monomania with him. Many of them are matchless in beauty, however, and one day will be worth large sums.”
Here are a few of Rossetti’s “Guggums”:
Here is a later version of Beata Beatrix, painted in 1870. Lets compare it to the earlier version we’ve discussed. It is certainly more “glamorized”. Any thoughts?
Rossetti painted Beata Beatrix after Elizabeth Siddal’s death. Although studies had been done before Lizzie died, the work is mainly posthumous and is considered to be a memorial tribute to the artist’s wife. Beata Beatrix is one of Rossetti’s finest masterpieces and is filled with symbolism. I am currently reading The Hidden Life of Art, which quotes Oscar Wilde on the interior dustjacket flap: “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their own peril.” I think we must risk the peril and dive beneath the surface. I invite your comments.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti always identified with Dante Alighieri, so it was perfectly natural to cast Lizzie as Dante’s love Beatrice. As always, his view of Lizzie is as an extension of his own experience. Dante is his lifelong obsession, so Lizzie must be Beatrice.
How peaceful she looks. Is she in prayer? Meditation? A state of bliss as she transitions from the earthly world to a heavenly one? Or is this state we see in her face and in her posture reminiscent of Lizzie in a drugged state? Gabriel must have seen her under the influence of laudanum. Is this how she appeared to him? And is this his way of seeing her in a different light, forever changing her drugged high to a religious one with this painting.
This marks the second time Elizabeth Siddal is painted or portrayed in death (or at least close to death). In Ophelia, her hands lay open as she floats along the water. Open, but welcoming nothing. There is a vacancy. Here again, in Beata Beatrix her hands are open. Open and ready to welcome the poppies that the Dove (red, the color of love) is bringing her. Poppies – whose seeds are the source of Opium without which, Lizzie could not have had her laudanum.
In the background, we see the figures of Love and Death. We also see a sundial, with the shadow on the number nine. In later versions of Beata Beatrix, Rossetti painted the figures on the background with much more detail but changed the face of Beatrice a great deal. Also, the color of the dove has changed from red to white while the poppies were changed from white to red. (see here)