The Seed of David (For a Picture)

Alternately titled: The Seed of David

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1864
Rhyme: couplets
Meter: pentameter
Genre: inscription
Model: Jane Morris (head of the Virgin) (Jane Morris was substituted in 1861 for Ruth Herbert, who was the original model for the Virgin.)
Model: Agnes Hughes (the Christ Child) (She was the daughter of Arthur Hughes.)
Model: Edward Burne-Jones (the shepherd)
Model: Timothy Hughes (half-clad David on the left) (He was the husband of Fanny Cornforth.)
Model: William Morris (King David on the right)


◦ Gregory, Life and Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti II. 123

◦ Landow, “Rossetti's Typological Structures”, (1978), 251-253

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 74-75

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 30-35passim

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné I. 58-60

◦ Wildman, Visions of Love and Life, 192-193.

General Description of The Seed of David (Prose)

Date: 1864
Genre: prose description


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911 text1911.

Scholarly Commentary


DGR must have wanted to include the lines in his 1870 volume as part of that book's general design to represent his life and work in a comprehensive way. The whole project of The Seed of David demonstrates his practical involvement in the mid-century Gothic Revival. Perhaps even more important (given his iconographical intentions), the project reflects an interesting feature of DGR's social imagination: to see a congruence of different classes under the sign of Christian ideas and an aesthetic program. This social imagination corresponds to DGR's more celebrated ideas about the unity of body and soul, and of painting and poetry.

He also wrote a prose ekphrasis of the triptych.

Textual History: Composition

DGR wrote the couplets around June 1864, when he finished his triptych painting for the reredos of the cathedral at Llandaff. Both couplets, he said, were conceived as “mottoes to inscribe on the stone-work round” the triptych (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 64. 84 ). They were written, he said, “to help the spectator” understand the typological significance of the images.

Production History

The painting was begun in 1858 (under a commission made in 1856), and DGR worked at it irregularly for several years. He completed it in June 1864 and apparently retouched it considerably in 1869. The original commission (for £400) came to DGR through Madox Brown and John Pollard Seddon (the architect directing the renovation of Llandaff Cathedral).


Both text and picture are conceived in typological terms, and in general (as DGR noted) was “intended to show Christ sprung from high and low in the person of David, who was both Shepherd and King, and worshipped by high and low—a King and a Shepherd—at his nativity” (see his long letter to his aunt Polidori 25 June 1864, where he gives an elaborate description and explanation of the triptych ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 64. 84 ). DGR's choice of models for his painting's figures reflects his central “high and low” idea about the painting.

Printing History

DGR first printed the poem in the A2 Proofs for his 1870 Poems, in mid-September 1869. He kept the poem in the prepublication proofs until the very end of the proof process, when he finally removed it, in late March 1870, because it was a trifle (see his letter to Swinburne, 3 April 1870, Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 80 ). The lines were not published until after DGR's death, in 1895 (WMR, Family Letters, II.175 ; and then collected in 1911.

The prose ekphrasis was first published by WMR in 1903.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1864.s105.raw.xml