The Many Portraits of Christina Rossetti

The Many Portraits of Christina Rossetti

It took a while for me to come up with a subtitle for my upcoming novel The Dove Upon Her Branch. Perhaps one wouldn’t be necessary if my authorship of it was enough to entice readers. I decided it was wiser to rely more on its protagonist’s lure.

She sometimes struggled with titles for her writing, often with her oldest brother’s opinion of her choices. Usually, she surrendered to his suggestions.

I hoped, as with the main title, the perfect words would appear out of the prolificacy of her poetry. Instead, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti was what I settled on. It was what I felt I had accomplished.

A Little Teaser of the Cover
Artwork Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

There are many drawings and paintings of the Victorian poet and youngest sibling of the remarkable Polidori-Rossetti family. From her girlhood to middle-age, Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, literally and lovingly captured the delicate beauty of his youngest sister’s youth, moods of her evolving temperament, and altered appearance due to age and disease.

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A few other artists put their hands to immortalizing her, two out of romantic interest, James Collinson’s unflattering, and John Brett’s never finished.

Christina Rossetti by James Collinson
Christina Rossetti by John Brett

A sketch of Christina Rossetti as a child by William Bell Scott from Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, 1892 edition.

Above, intriguingly sulky, is the youngest portrait of Christina that I have come across. The artist was Scotsman William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890), who was also an art teacher and poet. The drawing was included in his Autobiographical Notes published posthumously in 1892, two years before Christina died at the age of sixty-four. He actually didn’t set eyes on her until she was almost eighteen, the drawing seemingly a copy of one Filippo Pistrucci did of her 1837.

Signore Pistrucci did another in 1839.

Christina Rossetti by Filippo Pistrucci

“Such a pretty little Christina. Such a perfectly still and dull Christina has never existed.” By the time he was eighteen and at Henry Sass’ Drawing Academy, Gabriel didn’t doubt he was the bona fide artist in the family and, therefore, the opinion that mattered.

      “He caught her wide-eyes and the softly determined jut of her chin, I think.”

      “Unimaginative work, Will. Where is the thought in her eyes? The words on her lips? The breath from her nostrils? He didn’t capture her truth. Realism without imagination is like religion without spirituality.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

In response to a letter Dante Gabriel had sent to him, Mr. Bell Scott began a lifelong association with the Rossettis – and, arguably, a significant place in Christina’s affections – in a December 1848 visit to London and the Rossetti family home on Charlotte Street, meeting Christina and her ailing father in the parlor.

In Mr. Scott’s words:

By the window was a high narrow reading-desk, at which stood writing a slight girl with a serious regular profile, dark against the palid wintry light without. This most interesting of the two inmates turned on my entrance, made the most formal and graceful curtsey, and resumed her writing …

The girl was Christina, who had already at seventeen written, like her brother, some admirable lyrics, nearly all overshadowed with melancholy. Melancholy I call it, but perhaps the right words would be pious sentiment. At least in her mind, piety and sadness went together, and have done all her life.

Christina Rossett by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

And in my words:

     The man brought to the parlor was tall, his face flushed, eyebrows bushy, and chin square, his jacket, cravat, waistcoat, and trousers artistically mismatched and well-worn. He seemed expectant then confused, his searching, sapphire gaze scanning the room. He removed his green-velvet, feathered hat, implying his impression of Christina with a broad smile and slight bow. She felt and probably appeared cross because she was unprepared to greet anyone she didn’t know.    

     Christina lowered her face and hurried back to her desk.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll*, used a camera to portray a heavily costumed but relaxed thirty-three-year-old Christina with her beloved mother, older sister Maria, and older brothers William and Dante Gabriel on the back steps of the latter’s grand London house in Cheyne Walk.

     Compared to sitting for an artist, photographers were too busily burdened by the paraphernalia and processes of their trade to indulge in fostering relationships with their sitters. After a little bashful artistry, in few words Mr. Dodgson positioned Christina and, as soon as possible, escaped to concentrate on focusing the shot before he disappeared into his portable darkroom to prepare the plate. Ten or fifteen minutes of model patience was required for the time it took until he appeared rushed, holding his work away from the flaps of the tent, his cuffs, and anything else he might brush or bump it against. He did a final check with the darkening cloth over him and his magical machine, shut the lens, slid in the plate holder, pulled something up, and stood to the side.

     “You may blink but don’t otherwise move.” After removing the lens cap, Mr. Dodgson counted slowly to ten, and put it back.

     He hurried into the tent to confirm that Christina had been caught, as William described, first with “an intellectual profile” and then “a bantering air.”

Excerpts from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson

*It is thought that Christina’s poem Goblin Market was one of the inspirations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

From ‘The Annunciation-Ecce Ancilla Domini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From The Girlhood of
Mary Virgin by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina also sat for a number of paintings in which she was portrayed as someone other than herself. The two most famous are above, Dante Gabriel depicting her as the Virgin Mary.

… “Mary’s daisies”. They were everywhere around her grandparents’ cottage, across its lawns and creeping through its pathways, opening to the sun, closing to the rain. Mama had shown her how to weave them together in chains for her wrists, hair, or around her neck, Gabriel promising to paint a portrait of her “adorned with them.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

She also modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt, her head an inspiration for Jesus’, although another model, her eventual sister-on-law, Elizabeth Siddal, supplied the copper-colored locks.

From The Light of the World
by William Holman Hunt

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

From In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti

During her first visit to Penkill Castle in South Ayrshire, Scotland, Christina sat for several murals William Bell Scott was painting on the walls of a newly built large spiral staircase. He posed her as Lady Jane, the heroine and distant love of King James I in The King’s Quaire, a Medieval poem and courtly romance.

From Illustration by DM Denton © Copyright 2022

    “… I’m under no illusions that is a likeness of me. An artist sees pieces of a model, not the whole. They use what they want to: the color of her hair and eyes, shape of her face, length of her neck. They maneuver her to find the necessary position of her head, droop of her shoulders or outstretch of her hand. They imagine what they want to, such as turning the discomfort even pain of staying in one position for so long into a pining for love.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Mural at Penkill Castle by William Bell Scott Christina posed for

Mural at Penkill Castle by William Bell Scott Christina posed for

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

The chalk portrait above, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of Christina in her late forties, is one of my favorites. It evokes something of her truth for me, a woman more herself as she grew older, not merely pretty in features and form but beautiful in the thought in her eyes, the words on her lips, the breath from her nostrils, the dishevelment of her dreams, the light and the shadow of her.

I think it also appeals to me because, like Christina, I’m of English and Italian descent, and this drawing certainly brings out the latter in her, more evident as she aged.

Her sister Maria always had a dark complexion and plumpness to portray her plain and foreign.

Christina didn’t have her sister’s complaint. She grew paler and slimmer, her hair sleeker, her eyes more clearly blue, as English as she was anything.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Of course, looks were and continued to be deceiving. Six days after Christina returned from her one trip to Italy, she wrote the following poem inspired by ‘a very agreeable, bright-natured, eminently Italian in manner and character’ woman she had been introduced to. Enrica Filopanti was obviously enjoyed and, perhaps, even envied a little, but only in a poem to be emulated.

Enrica
by Christina Rossetti

She came among us from the South
  And made the North her home awhile
  Our dimness brightened in her smile,
Our tongue grew sweeter in her mouth.

We chilled beside her liberal glow,
  She dwarfed us by her ampler scale,
   Her full-blown blossom made us pale,
She summer-like and we like snow.

We Englishwomen, trim, correct,
  All minted in the self-same mould,
  Warm-hearted but of semblance cold,
All-courteous out of self-respect.

She woman in her natural grace,
  Less trammelled she by lore of school,
  Courteous by nature not by rule,
Warm-hearted and of cordial face.

So for awhile she made her home
  Among us in the rigid North,
  She who from Italy came forth
And scaled the Alps and crossed the foam.

But if she found us like our sea,
  Of aspect colourless and chill,
  Rock-girt; like it she found us still
Deep at our deepest, strong and free.

From Illustration by DM Denton © Copyright 2022

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Gift of a Story

The Gift of a Story

Based on true events …

In Depression-weary times, a little girl’s wish for a special doll touches a stoic heart. Through sacrifice and pure intent, giving her what she wants results in disappointment but eventually confirms that love and patience can work magic.

Time for another short story,
a seasonal one
for every season

The Snow White Gift

by DM Denton

A childish gasp greeted the wide-eyed porcelain doll. The exploration of a trunk full of old clothes uncovered it, eager hands lifting it from lying so long on its back in the dark. It blinked, dropped its arms, stretched its legs and lowered its chin while its sleeves were pinched out. An attempt was made to smooth the creases in its skirt and cape; the ribbon in its hair retied. Other than twisting awkwardly when it was hugged like a long lost friend, it offered no resistance to being rescued from what might have been the end of its story.

The Snow White Gift is available to read in its entirety on Kindle devices or for most other devices by downloading the Kindle app.

US $.99

UK £0.99

FREE if you have Kindle unlimited!

The story’s illustration by DM Denton is available as a print from DM Denton’s Artspan Site

Options for matting and framing available

Copyright 2013 by DM Denton

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

A Valentine for Anne

Before she closed her eyes on that day she would be tempted to hold and look at one of her most treasured possessions: a Valentine, a pretty thing of lace paper, satin ribbon, & embossed flowers with a little bird in an egg-filled nest, Anne, dear, sweet, Anne quickly written but not yet slowly spoken.

It was unto her spirit given.

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

 

In February 1840, a young man walked ten miles from Haworth to Bradford, West Yorkshire in order to anonymously post Valentines to four young women who he expected would be charmed by them. The flirtatious fellow was William Weightman, curate to Reverend Patrick Brontë.

 

Was William being capricious or compassionate or, perhaps, a bit of both? Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and their dear friend Ellen had never received a Valentine before. They may have been fooled by the sender’s motivation, but not by his identity. Charlotte probably told herself to view her Valentine cynically. Emily likely looked hers over quickly and put it aside. Possibly, Ellen enjoyed hers for vanity’s sake.

Anne might have hoped for a deeper meaning in hers, that sending four was William being discreet and inclusive, which, of course, her shy and generous nature would appreciate.

William wrote different verses in each. Well, three are known. The receiver of Fair Ellen, Fair Ellen is obvious. Away fond love and Soul divine could have been inscribed – to tease rather than ensnare – any of the Brontë sisters.

And that fourth Valentine? I like to think it was the most special, because it was …

 

Was William Weightman the love of Anne’s life? Who better than Anne herself to answer … in the way that beautiful poetry tells without saying.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; —
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.
from Farewell by Anne Brontë

 

What had been hope at first sight, a stir of her heart, amiable reserve, foolish diffidence, a February keepsake, time standing still and looking forward with a gentle exchange of words and glances in a trusted parting, was, in a moment … all that was left of William, her William, never hers except as she imagined, always hers as she would forever know him.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

Celebrate Anne Brontë’s Bicentennial: Enter to Win!

2020 is the Bicentennial of Anne Brontë’s Birth!

This coming Friday is the actual 200th anniversary of her birth on January 17, 1820.

To mark this special occasion, I’m running two giveaway contests of Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit: one for those haven’t yet read the novel and one for those who have. The deadline to enter is January 31, 2020.

 

To be eligible to win a signed copy of Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, please put you name in the comments to this post or the one on the novel’s Facebook page.

To be eligible to win the five illustrations as limited edition signed prints, please leave a recommendation on the Facebook Page of Without the Veil Between. (If instead or in addition, you post a review on Amazon and/Goodreads you will be eligible to also win a signed print of the novel’s back cover illustration of the Brontë Parsonage. In that case, let me know with a link to the review you have posted.)

Winners will be determined by random drawing.

Good Luck!

 

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit – Bicentennial Book Trailer from Diane M Denton on Vimeo.

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.