Helen of Troy

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1863


◦ Fredeman, Correspondence, 63. 36.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 129-130.

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 41.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 92 (no. 163).

Scholarly Commentary


Like the Lilith and Venus paintings that followed this one, the picture folds into central Rossettian subjects and preoccupations. Although this painting does not form part of a double work, as the others do, it relates directly to the Matter of Troy that DGR took up in “Troy Town” , which DGR pursued as a double work. All of these works interconnect because DGR took a syncretic approach to the Matter of Troy, the Matter of Arthur, and the Genesis story. The great Bocca Baciata initiates DGR's investigation of female figures—Lucrezia Borgia is another—who stand at the nexus of ominous histories.

Production History

DGR wrote to his mother in February 1863 to ask her “ if there are any stereoscopic pictures. . .which represent general views of cities, would you send them. . ., or anything of a fleet of ships. I want to use them in painting Troy at the back of my Helen” ( Correspondence 63. 36.). The painting was finished by September. Its success at the Liverpool Exhibition may have induced DGR to make the replica (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum).


DGR sent the picture for a small exhibition of contemporary works at the Liverpool Academy held in September and October 1864 (see letters to Ford Madox Brown of 3 September and to George Rae of 29 September, Fredeman, Correspondence, 64. 125 and 134) ). Rae said of the picture that it was “the gem of the exhibition” (quoted in WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 49 ).

Swinburne gave the picture special attention and praise in the extended critical notice of DGR's poetry and painting that he published in his Essays and Reviews (1875), 99 . The fact that Fairfax Murray made a replica (it is in the Fitzwilliam Museum) underscores the importance that DGR's contemporaries attached to the picture.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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