The Portrait

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet
Model: Jane Morris (Head and bust, facing left)


◦ Baum, House of Life, 80-81.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Ilustrated Memorial, 149

◦ Masefield, Thanks Before Going, 50-51.

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 191-192.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 121.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poems (1870) text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet can stand alone as an expression of the process of idealization that art undertakes. In DGR's imagination, only the artistic representation of a beloved person approaches the reality of that person as she or he is a subject (and object) of love. Reciprocally, only the work of art approaches the ideal reality of the lover/poet/artist: this thought is clearly expressed in the concluding line, where the word “me” identifies the work of art with the person of the artist/lover.

In the House of Life sequence this is the first sonnet to draw a firm connection between Love and Art. Because the sequence lays out a kind of story of the artist/lover's life, each sonnet figures more or less explicitly in the narrative action. So here one is drawn to decide the “identity” of the sitter—specifically, whether she is the Beloved or the Innominata (or, in biographical terms, Elizabeth Siddal or Jane Morris, or someone else). The sonnet leaves the matter undecided. In doing so, it underscores the extreme process of idealization driving DGR's imaginative works (poetic as well as pictorial). In DGR's imaginaton, the ideal lover is drawn to a transcendent place and condition through all actual love-experiences; and the making of art works devoted to love is the most intense and ideal of those experiences.

The sonnet forms part of a double work, but the ambiguity of the precise pictorial element makes it a unique instance of this Rossettian genre. Three different pictures are associated with the sonnet (see commentary below) as well as three different women, most importantly DGR's wife and Mrs. Jane Morris. The ambiguity of reference here underscores the ideality of the aesthetic situation.

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates it “c. 1868” and Fredeman concurs ( WMR, DGR: Classified Lists, 6 ; Fredeman, “Rossetti's ‘In Memoriam’” . But Tisdel dates it ?1860-61 and Baum 1863-66, while Frederick Page dated it 1868 (see Baum, House of Life, 80 ). Needless to say, the dating is most uncertain, though its terminus ad quem is mid-September 1869, when the sonnet was printed in the A2 Proofs for the 1870 volume. Furthermore, the apparently deliberate allusion to line 13 of “Love's Lovers” in line 11 of this sonnet strongly suggests that the two are closely related. Furthermore, one is aware of the connection of the sonnet to the colored chalk portrait of Jane Morris, which is dated 1869. All these evidences argue that the sonnet was written in 1869, and probably in late August or early September. This date is supported strongly by a pencil draft of the sonnet that is written on the verso of the Huntington Library manuscript of “The Orchard Pit”, which dates from 1869.

Besides the early pencil draft, two other integral manuscripts exist: a corrected draft in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” manuscript; and a fair copy at Princeton.

Textual History: Revision

Except for a revision in line 9, the text of the sonnet remains stable from its first appearance in print. One of DGR's notebooks in the Ashley Library (Notebook II) records this revision.

Production History

DGR executed a chalk drawing of Jane Morris in 1869 that is inscribed with lines 4 and 8 of the sonnet. The two other pictures associated with the sonnet are Beata Beatrix (1864-1870) and the portrait of Mrs. Morris in a blue dress (1866-1868).

Printing History

First printed in mid-September 1869 in the A2 Proofs for the 1870 Poems, and kept through all subsequent proofs and authorized printings. It is The House of Life Sonnet IX in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet X in 1881.


The sonnet is associated with three specific pictures by DGR and with three distinct women. No hard evidence connects the sonnet to the famous picture Beata Beatrix, the memorial reconstruction of DGR's wife as his visionary Beatrice, but this connection is commonly made. The portrait in colored chalks of Jane Morris, signed and dated by DGR 1869 and called The Portrait, was exhibited in 1883 at the Royal Academy Exhibition. According to Ford Madox Brown, however, the sonnet “was written to accompany Mrs. Morris in a Blue Dress” (see Newman and Watkinson, Ford Madox Brown, 155). Finally, Stephens says that the sonnet referred chiefly to Alexa Wilding ( Dante Gabriel Rossetti 173 ).


Although it has the same title as the poem “The Portrait”, the two works have little in common beyond their respective committments to the idealizing function of art.

This work should be compared with Fazio degli Uberti's “Canzone”, translated by DGR, and the painting that doubles the translation, Fazio's Mistress (Aurelia).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1868.s212.raw.xml