Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Damsel of the Sanct Grael

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted Damsel of the Sanct Grael in 1874. Rossetti did a number of paintings related to the grail legend, and two works that depicted the damsel of the holy grail. The damsel character is referred to several times in Mallory's Morte D'Arthur, although, as was his wont, Rossetti took a number of artistic liberties in his portrayal of the damsel. Mallory describes her as "a damsel passing fair and young" and "dressed all in white." Well, Rossetti sort of skimmed over the white part...his damsel is a bit more worldly looking than Mallory might have envisioned. Her flowing hair and raised eyebrow impart some of the carnal flair that imbues Rossetti's later work. I love the grape vines that form an enticing frame around the damsel - clearly a nod to the chalice itself, which played a starring role in the Last Supper - but it's also hard not to see the Dionysian undertones. But that's what I love about Rossetti - his unabashed appreciation for both the sacred and profane.

This was Rossetti's second time painting The Damsel of the Sanct Grael. His first interpretation of the damsel was painted nearly 20 years before, and features a less-lusty and more medieval-looking maiden (modeled, I believe, on Lizzie Siddal). The early version is held by the Tate Gallery in London and can be seen here. Both images use similar symbolism (the dove and hand positions are the same), but the moods of the paintings are completely different.

Rosseti used Alexa Wilding as his model for the second damsel. Wilding posed for a number of his other works, including Venus Verticordia and Veronica Veronese. 

This painting is currently in the private collection of Lord Andrew Lloyd-Weber (lucky fellow).

Image courtesy Wikimedia


willow said...

Damsel of the Sanct Grael is rich and lovely. I especially like the way she has her two fingers raised in a very Christ-like manner.

acornmoon said...

I love the colours in this painting, especially the hair.

Hermes said...

Rossetti seems to have had a thing about the Grail legends, I love this sketch he did for the Oxford murals:


Good post. Thanks.

Margaret said...

@willow - Yes, she's making the sign of peace (just as she was in Rossetti's earlier rendition).

@acornmoon - I know, isn't the hair fabulous? Shame on Evelyn Waugh for saying that Rossetti's models always look like they're wearing cheap wigs - I couldn't disagree more ;)

@Hermes - Rossetti was terribly obsessed with Arthurian legend, as were most of the Pre-Raphaelites. They did dozens of paintings around these themes!

lotusgreen said...

that's a really interesting analysis. thanks!

Fete et Fleur said...

This is a beautiful painting. I would love to see it in person. Her hair color is mesmerizing.


Gaelyn said...

I'm wondering if this image's copyright falls in the public domain. I have a client that would like to use this image on their website banner. The site is about celebrating Mary Magdalene.