Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The Athenaeum, 1878, Part II
Author: John Francis (publisher)
Date of publication: 1878 July-December
Publisher: E. J. Francis & Co.
Printer: E. J. Francis & Co.
Volume: 1878, Part II

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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16, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, July 16, 1878.
The other day I had submitted to me for

verification a drawing of a female head. It had

been bought by a gentleman as my work (being

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so labelled in the shop window) at Attenborough's,

72, Strand; and it bore in the corner a colourable

imitation of my monogram, with the date 1876.

I saw it at once to be spurious throughout, and

gave the buyer my assurance of the fact in writing.

This being shown at the shop compelled at once

the return of the money. It is especially neces-

sary that I should make this denial public, as the

false drawing is far from being alone. Several

similarly attributed to me have been, and may

be still, at Attenborough's,—presumably pledged

there as my work.

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Some weeks ago we briefly mentioned that Mr.

Rossetti had nearly finished an important paint-

ing. We are now able to describe it at length,

and to quote four sonnets which illustrate its

subject. The first of these is Boccaccio's; one

of the sonnets has reference to Dante. Mr.

Rossetti inserted it in his ‘ Early Italian Poets,

1861, and in that volume, p. 449, he gave a

translation which is now, with an alteration,

repeated. The fourth of these sonnets is the

painter's, and designed to describe his picture, or

rather to illustrate the sentiment and purport of

that work. Our duty is to describe and analyze

the picture, and to thank the author for the oppor-

tunity of doing so and for liberty to quote the

Fiammetta, it is surmised, was Boccaccio's

name for Maria d' Aquino, repeatedly celebrated

for her loveliness of mind and person, and
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Note: Here, the anonymous author has altered the first line of DGR's translation of “Of his Last Sight of Fiammetta.” The line in the 1861 Early Italian Poets reads, “Round her red garland and her golden hair.”
lamented in the following lines on her early

  • Dante, if thou within the sphere of Love,
  • As I believe, remain'st contemplating
  • Beautiful Beatrice, whom thou didst sing
  • Erewhile, and so wast drawn to her above;—
  • Unless from false life true life thee remove
  • So far that Love's forgotten, let me bring
  • One prayer before thee: for an easy thing
  • This were, to thee whom I do ask it of.
  • I know that where all joy doth most abound
  • 10 In the third Heaven, my own Fiammetta sees
  • The grief which I have borne since she is dead.
  • O pray her (if mine image be not drown'd
  • In Lethe) that her prayers may never cease
  • Until I reach her and am comforted.
Such was Boccaccio's prayer, such were the

memories recorded by another sonnet ‘ Of Fiam-

metta Singing,
’ wherein he describes how, in the

spirit, he heard
  • —a song as glad as love,
  • So sweet that never yet the like thereof
  • Was heard in any mortal company.
So that to him it appeared as if—
  • “A nymph, a goddess, or an angel sings
  • Unto herself, within this chosen place,
  • Of ancient loves”; so said I at that sound.
  • And there my lady, 'mid the shadowings
  • Of myrtle trees, 'mid flowers and grassy space,
  • Singing I saw, with others who sat round.
Another reminiscence was vouchsafed to the lover-

poet, and it is this which is specially described in

a third of the sonnets written by “Love's own

squire,” as Boccaccio was finely called by Mr.

Madox Brown, who is better known as a painter

than a poet. It is this third sonnet which is most

closely connected with the picture, and is entitled
  • 'Mid glowing blossoms and o'er golden hair
  • I saw a fire about Fiammetta's head;
  • Thence to a little cloud I watched it fade,
  • Than silver or than gold more brightly fair;
  • And like a pearl that a gold ring doth bear,
  • Even so an angel sat therein, who sped
  • Alone and glorious throughout heaven, array'd
  • In sapphires and in gold that lit the air.
  • Then I rejoiced as hoping happy things,
  • 10 Who rather should have then discerned how God
  • Had haste to make my lady all his own,
  • Even as it came to pass. And with these stings
  • Of sorrow and with life's most weary load
  • I dwell, who fain would be where she is gone.
The following is the artist's sonnet, designed to

express the purport of his picture. Additional

symbolism was required in working out the idea

of Boccaccio, and adapting it to a pictorial form

of larger range and subtler inspiration than he

aimed at:—
  • Behold Fiammetta, shown in Vision here.
  • Gloom-girt, 'mid spring-flushed apple-growth she stands;
  • And as she sways the branches with her hands,
  • Along her arm the sundered bloom falls sheer,
  • In separate petals shed, each like a tear;
  • While from the quivering bough the bird expands
  • His wings. And lo! thy spirit understands
  • Life shaken and shower'd and flown, and Death drawn near.
  • All stirs with change. Her garments beat the air,
  • 10 The angel circling round her aureole
  • Shimmers in flight against the tree's grey bole;
  • While she, with reassuring eyes most fair,
  • A presage and a promise stands; as 'twere
  • On Death's dark storm the rainbow of the Soul.
Fiammetta, beautiful in her decline, stands as if

parting the apple-boughs, and is surrounded by

a purplish gloom, or rather twilight, which symbol-

izes the period between life and death. There is an

aureole about her head, and its light fades as it

spreads on her form and the huge grey-green

tree-bole which is behind her; it falls on the

blossom-laden branch above her hair, on that other

lower bough which extends before her, on the flame-

coloured tunic of tissue she wears, on her arms, on

the brilliant azure butterflies, emblems of the soul,

which hover on the foliage, and it adds to the

splendour of the scarlet bird, which, tinted like a

flash of fire, spreads its wings to flight from the

blooming apple-bough above her head, which she

grasps while it sheds its red and “separate

petals,” and they, reeling in descent, flutter to the

Diffused as its radiance is, the margins of the

aureole are marked on the gloom about Fiammetta.

They are defined like those of a rainbow, and,

like the edges of that ancient emblem, fuse them-

selves with the darkness, and become indefinite.

In this lustre is the figure of the angel, bending

as if to receive the soul of Fiammetta, and pro-

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tecting her with his arms and wings. Her head

is distinct in this
  • Mysterious veil, of lightness made,
  • At once a brightness and a shade,
where the welcoming spirit is half lost. The fair

brown hair is bound in ample masses about the

lady's face, and trails in freedom on her neck, and

all her figure, softened in the juncture of light

and dark, stands solid in its place. Fiammetta's

hair heaped over her forehead, and projecting

there, casts an ominous shadow over her eyes and

brow, and out of that shadow those eyes, which

are clear and pure as the morning, being, it

may be, lit with a celestial dawn, look lustrous

and piercing, with a happy but grave

presage, although all about her are emblems

of the parting soul—the soaring bird, the falling

blossoms, the waiting angel, the tremulous butter-

flies; and even her very action is in keeping with

the fluttering of the draperies, which shift and sub-

side as she moves. The lady's lips are set with a

calm and happy sedateness, not far removed from

a smile. Her cheeks and chin are most beautiful,

and, although the fulness of their contour has

departed, they are as lovely as before and more

exalted in character, the carnations have paled but

very little, and the larger contours of her figure

retain their stately grace and something of their

sumptuous amplitude.
Technically speaking, the colour, both local and

general, of this picture is intense and soberly

splendid, and wonderfully rich in its deep glow,

in respect to which the apposition of light and

profound shadow has proved of immeasurable

advantage to the painter. The wealth of the tone

of the work is hardly less admirable. The illumi-

nation is, of course, centred on the aureole, and

this subserves the chiaroscuro in unison with the

colour proper. That colour centres on the bird,

the ruddy lustre of which at once intensifies the

glowing tints of the red blossoms and the crimson


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Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: ap4.a85.1878b.rad.xml
Copyright: Digital images courtesy of University of Virginia Special Collections.