Walter Howell Deverell was in need of a model to portray Viola for his work in progress, Twelfth Night. It was Elizabeth Siddal who struck his eye while she worked in Mrs. Tozer’s hat shop, and thus a Pre-Raphaelite legend was born.
Fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt described Lizzie’s discovery:
“Rossetti at that date had the habit of coming to me with a drawing folio, and sitting with it designing while I was painting at a further part of the room…Deverell broke in upon our peaceful labours. He had not been seated many minutes, talking in a somewhat absent manner, when he bounded up, marching, or rather dancing to and fro about the room, and, stopping emphatically, he whispered, “You fellows can’t tell what a stupendously beautiful creature I have found. By Jove! She’s like a queen, magnificently tall, with a lovely figure, a stately neck, and a face of the most delicate and finished modelling: the flow of surface from the temples over the cheek is exactly like the carving of a Phidean goddess…I got my mother to persuade the miraculous creature to sit for me for my Viola in ‘Twelfth Night‘, and to-day I have been trying to paint her; but I have made a mess of my beginning. To-morrow she’s coming again; you two should come down and see her; she’s really a wonder; for while her friends, of course, are quite humble, she behaves like a real lady, by clear commonsense, and without any affectation, knowing perfectly, too, how to keep people respectful at a distance.”William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, vol. I (1905)
Twelfth Night, or What You Will is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. The story is said to have come from a novelette written early in the 16th century. A brother and sister, twins, are shipwrecked and lose contact. Viola, dressed like her brother, becomes page to the Duke Orsino. The duke was in love with Olivia, and, as the lady looks coldly upon his suit, he sent Viola (as his page) to advance it. But the willful Olivia, instead of melting towards the duke, falls in love with the beautiful page. Sebastian, the twin brother of Viola, was attacked in a street brawl before Olivia, who thinks Sebastian is the page and invites him in.
It is a delightful tale of mistaken identity that results in the marriage of Sebastian and Olivia and of the duke to Viola. You may be familiar with the 1996 film version of Twelfth Night starring Helena Bonham Carter. The 21st Century Stunner has three gorgeous posts of screencaps from the film that are well worth the visit! Twelfth Night, Twelfth Night Part II, Twelfth Night Part 3.
Interestingly, Lizzie’s future husband can also be seen in Twelfth Night. Deverell used Dante Gabriel Rossetti as the model for Feste, the fool.