Perlascura. Twelve Coins for One Queen

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1878
Model: Jane Morris


◦ Edwige Schulte, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Vita, arte, poesia (1986), chapter 10

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 127 (no. 225)).

Scholarly Commentary


In August 1878 DGR wrote to Jane Morris about an idea to publish “some dozen autotypes of you in a book—done on a moderate scale so as to make a large folio. . . . I should put a sonnet to each autotype” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 78. 163 ). The project never materialized, but we can see much of what DGR had in mind.

The idea emerged from DGR's rather extensive involvement with another project—to have a number of his drawings and paintings reproduced in photographic “autotype”. Frederick Shields proposed this scheme to DGR in 1877 (or possibly late in 1876). Shields was a partner in the English Picture Publishing Company, which set about to publish photographic reproductions of the work of contemporary and earlier British artists. The company became the Fine Art Autotype Company, and among its first reproductions were several by DGR. His partners were Charles Rowley and George Milner, and the company operated out of Manchester (see WMR, Letters, Vol. III. 1471n ).

An initial series of quality-control tests were done on the chalk drawing of Jane Morris, Silence. Proofs were eventually pulled and the reproduction was published in 1877, the first (apparently) of a series. Many but not all involved images of Mrs. Morris. WMR said that the first to be published was the drawing of Mrs. Morris figured as La Donna Della Finestra (see WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 100 ).

Discussions during 1877 with Shields and his partners led to decisions to make autotypes of the following works that featured Mrs. Morris: Perlascura; Water Willow; one of the finished drawings of Mrs. Morris as La Pia de' Tolomei; a study for The Salutation of Beatrice; one of the Pandora drawings, perhaps the one at Harvard's Fogg Museum; one of the Proserpine drawings, probably the pastel and black chalk one in the Ashmolean; the Mariana drawing in the Metropolitan museum of Art; one of the drawings of Astarte Syriaca, probably the ink drawing originally owned by Clarence Fry; the finished chalk drawing, done in 1876, for Mnemosyne.

We can't be sure about any other images of Mrs. Morris that DGR may have thought to include in the Perlascura series. The following are likely candidates: Beatrice; Reverie; La Penserosa; The Portrait; The Roseleaf; La Donna Della Fiamma.

The subtitle of the series makes an interesting cross reference to DGR's Introductory Sonnet for the 1881 text of The House of Life. In this case, each of these projected double works would have been the equivalent of a coin of tribute to Jane Morris.

DGR started or completed seven of the projected twelve sonnets, two of which were his translations from the Vita Nuova of (from chapters 26 and 36): “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare” (“My lady looks so gentle and so pure”) and “Color d'amore e di pietà sembianti” (“Love's pallor and the semblance of deep ruth”).


DGR wrote only a few of the sonnets for the picture series. He told Mrs. Morris that he meant to head the collection with a quotation from lines 47-50 of the first canzone in Dante's Vita Nuova (“Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore”), along with his translation.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1