La Bella Mano (For a Picture)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1875
Rhyme: abbaabbaaccaac (Italian sonnet); abbaaccadedeed (English version)
Meter: iambic hexameter (Italian version); iambic pentameter (English version)
Genre: sonnet
Model: Mrs. Stillman (principal figure), May Morris (girl holding the tray)


◦ Agosta, 92

◦ Conti, Il Canzoniere (1918)

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 185

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 95

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 238-240

◦ Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 90.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 138-139.

General Description of La Bella Mano I.

Date: 1875
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet

General Description of La Bella Mano II.

Date: 1875
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets (1881) text of the Italian sonnet.

Scholarly Commentary


Like Proserpine, this is in effect a “triple-work” rather than a double—the only two such works in DGR's corpus. In each case DGR, after completing his picture, wrote an accompanying sonnet in Italian, and then translated the sonnet into English.

Textual History: Composition

A draft copy of the Italian sonnet is in the Humanities Research Center at Texas, along with a corrected copy of the English sonnet. DGR sent a fair copy of both the Italian and the English sonnets in his letter to Stephens of ca. 10 August 1875 and Stephens used these texts and commentaries for the essay on DGR's paintings that he published several days later in The Athenaeum (see his “Pictures by Mr. Rossetti”, The Athenaeum, 219-221 ). Another fair copy of the Italian sonnet is in the library of the Delaware Art Museum. Finally, fair copies of both the Italian sonnet and the English translation are preserved in the Princeton University library.

Production History

Begun early in February 1875 for Murray Marks, DGR told Howell that “£1050 is what I must pocket as its price” (see Fredeman , Correspondence 75. 11 ). He was finishing the crayon study at the end of April and seems to have completed the oil sometime before 20 July, though it remained in his studio until September, when Marks finally claimed possession ( Fredeman , Correspondence 75. 81 ).


Faxon comments usefully on the iconography: “The iris and the lemon tree in the foreground are symbols of the Virgin, while the rose is a symbol of the Virgin and of Venus. The scallop-shaped basin is also a symbol of Venus. . . . The hand washing here denotes purity rather than the end of an affair” ( Faxon, Dante Gabriel Rossetti 206-207 ).

Printing History

The sonnets were first published together, along with the English/Italian pair of the Proserpine sonnets, in The Athenaeum under the heading “Sonnets for Pictures” (28 August 1875). DGR then republished them with slight variations in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and they were collected thereafter.


The Italian and English versions of the poem were written to accompany and comment upon DGR's painting of the same title. The latter seems in certain respects a deliberate re-presentation of DGR's earlier watercolour Lucrezia Borgia where, however, the figure of a beautiful woman washing her hands carries dreadful implications, as it does in the similar picture Washing Hands.


As DGR observed in his letter to Stephens, the title of both the picture and sonnets recalls the volume of lyrics by the same title written in 1440 by Giusto de' Conti (1389?-1449), in imitation of Petrarch. Conti was a poet in the court of Sigismundo Malatesta of Rimini.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1