On Mary's Portrait Which I Painted Six Years Ago

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1847
Rhyme: abcbddeed
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: dramatic monologue


Works (1911), WMR's note on pp. 662-63.

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 126.

◦ Baum, Manuscripts in the Duke University Library, 26-33, 67-71.

◦ Swafford, "Early Marian Poems", 78-91 .


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

Scholarly Commentary


The poem deals with an imaginary situation. Indeed, the Mary of the poem is almost certainly the beloved of the young painter who tells his story in St. Agnes of Intercession, which would therefore (if completed) have incorporated this text. The poem is thus closely connected with works like Hand and Soul. Indeed, Chiaro's portrait of his soul in the latter story corresponds to this Portrait of Mary. The parallel is emphasized by the relation this poem bears to DGR's later poem titled The Portrait (“This is her picture as she was”), which represents a massive reconstitution of the present text. The Portrait of course lies open to autobiographical readings—in ways that this work does not.

The poem's strength lies exactly along the line of its differences from the later work it helped to spawn. In this text we see an explicit connection being drawn between the Beatrice figure of the poem's modern artist and her Marian model in Christian mythology. In this respect the poem's closest connections are with works like The Blessed Damozel and with various poems DGR translated for The Early Italian Poets (see in particular DGR's translations of Fazio degli Uberti's “Canzone. His Portrait of His Lady, Angiola of Verona”; Jacopo da Lentino's “Canzonetta. Of his Lady, and of her portrait” and his “Sonnet. Of his Lady's Face”; and Giacomino Pugliesi's “Canzone. Of his Dead Lady”).

Textual History: Composition

The only surviving text is the fair copy copied into the Notebook designated II by Paull Baum when he made an analytical survey the the Duke University DGR manuscripts. The early manuscript of St. Agnes of Intercession is among the manuscripts gathered under the same notebook heading. But analysis of the paper shows that Baum's Notebook II comprises materials taken from separate (similar) notebooks.

WMR dates the poem 1847 and says that it was included among the works gathered into the family magazine Hodgepodge, which was produced in 1846-47. It was sometimes called by the titles “Mary's Portrait” and “Jane's Portrait” (see Fredeman, The P.R.B. Journal, 55 : WMR's diary entry for 16 February 1850).

A manuscript fragment also exists that seems clearly to have been intended for the poem. No version of the poem survives that includes this fragment.

Textual History: Revision

Strictly speaking this poem was never revised, though it was used by DGR in 1869 as a basis text for the composition of The Portrait, which has the same prosodic form and a few identical lines.

Printing History

First printed, privately, in the Rossetti family magazine Hodgepodge in 1847, according to WMR. After that it remained unpublished until the manuscript was printed in Baum's Manuscripts in the Duke University Library in 1931. WMR printed a stanza from the manuscript in the notes to the 1911 text of The Portrait.


Although the poem does not connect to any specific pictures, it is clearly a work that takes up the relation of poetry and painting. The matter is explicitly drawn into the theme in stanza 5, but it pervades the entire poem.

The pictorial/literary issues are also a central part of St. Agnes of Intercession, which would have incorporated this work, as well as of Hand and Soul, which is the fulfilled companion work of the uncompleted story.


The work is a conscious act of homage to Browning's work with the dramatic monologue — indeed, it seems to be DGR's first serious effort to imitate the form. The allusions to Browning's “My Last Duchess” in stanzas 1-2 are clear and clearly deliberate. DGR seems also to have had in mind Poe's story “The Oval Portrait”.

The work should also be compared with the 1869 poem, The Portrait, which DGR drew out of this early piece, as well as with the two early prose pieces (of 1850 and 1849) that deal with the same kinds of literary/artistic issues (St. Agnes of Intercession and Hand and Soul). The House of Life sonnet titled The Portrait is another related text, as is The Blessed Damozel, which was composed about the same time. The connection to the latter is clearest in a passage like stanza 12.


WMR ( 1911 662 ) has a note to The Portrait arguing against the autobiographical character of that poem. The argument is closely tied to what WMR saw as the original version of the 1869 poem, that is, the present early work. As Baum notes, The Portrait is distinctly autobiographical in character ( Baum, 28-29 ), and indeed distinguishes itself from the earlier poem on this very ground. The matter is interesting and important because it shows—what we often see in DGR's work—how he could (and did) refashion early work to later purposes and circumstances.

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