Veronica Veronese

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1872 January - 1872 March
Model: Alexa Wilding


◦ Ainsworth, Double Work of Art, 97-98.

◦ Elzea, Bancroft and Related Collections, 120-121.

◦ Fennell, Rossetti–Leyland Letters, 28-29, 33, 71.

◦ Fredeman, Correspondence, 72.10, 72.20, 75.102.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 170-171.

◦ Powell, “Object, Symbol, and Metaphor”, 16-29.

◦ Psomiades, Body's Beauty, 122-129

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 227-228.

◦ Smith, “From Allegory to Symbol”, 50-65.

◦ Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 82-83.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 128 (no. 228).

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 77, 80.

Scholarly Commentary


DGR has left extensive comments on this important picture, but since his remarks are meshed with his commercial purposes, they complicate and may even confuse the issues. Nonetheless, the comments are primary documents and must be treated as such.

Shortly after beginning the painting he told Frederick Leyland, who bought the work, that it was “an entirely new picture from the Palmifera model” (letter to Leyland, 25 Jan. 1872, Fredeman, Correspondence, 72.10 ). That description proved irresistible to Leyland, who (as DGR knew) admired Sibylla Palmifera excessively; he quickly agreed to purchase the new work. By early March, when the painting was nearing completion, DGR wrote again to Leyland that “I mean to call the violin picture ‘Veronica Veronese’ which sounds like the name of a musical genius” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 72.20 ).

On August 18, 1875 DGR again wrote to Leyland that he was beginning to work on “a picture as companion to the ‘Veronica’.” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 75.102 ). This work was A Sea-Spell, which he represented as another treatment of “musical genius”: “here [ie., in A Sea-Spell] the bird listens to the player, as in the other picture the player listens to the bird” (ibid.). But when he began the picture he represented it to Leyland as “a companion to Lilith.” In what respect it paired with the latter isn't very clear, even when we consider DGR's further comments: “I think of calling it [i.e., Veronica Veronese] the Day Dream. The girl is in a sort of passionate reverie & is drawing her hand listlessly along the strings of a violin which hangs against the wall, while she holds the bow with the other hand, as if arrested by thought at the moment when she was about to play. In colour I shall make the picture chiefly a study of varied greens.” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 72.10 ).

So the picture is at once a figura of “musical genius” and a purely formal “study of varied greens.” These two conceptualizations of the work are not, for DGR, mutually exclusive. As a poem like “The Monochord” shows, DGR's symbolist ideas made emblems of music signs for an ideal of Pythagorean harmony. That harmony constituted the transcendental and abstract ground of all artistic practise. The painting can also be usefully compared with DGR's early sonnet “For an Allegorical Dance of Women, by Andrea Mantegna,” which develops a similar interpretation of the work of a very un-Venetian artist. The voluptuous and decorative work of Paolo Veronese differs in the clearest way from that of Mantegna, an apt source of inspiration for DGR's early “Pre-Raphaelite” interests. Nonetheless, DGR's approach to the work of both artists was entirely comparable. In each case the idea of music locates DGR's argument that the purpose of painting is to develop true images of ideal worlds.

As a pure colour study, then, the picture is being seen in a similarly idealized way. In short, the painting means to be a highly eclectic representation of what Sarah Phelps Smith accurately describes as “the creative process, or Art itself.”

The highly decorative character of the picture emphasizes its aesthetic argument, which is more or less explicitly rendered in the title DGR chose for the work. It means literally “a true Veronesian image.” Stephens' early commentary called attention to the studied Veronesian manner of the picture, which falls squarely within the series of Venetian-inspired works that DGR had been doing since in late 1850s. Like those works, this picture is an effort to execute an ideal portrait. It is not primarily the portrait of a certain woman, it is DGR's visionary representation of the soul of Veronesian art, as he understood it.

Production History

The work seems to have been done entirely in early 1872, between January and March (when it was completed). The only extant study for the work is itself dated 1872.


We want to register the absence of a determinate moral attitude in DGR's paintings of this kind. The implicit argument—perhaps it is an assumption—is that while art is a spiritual activity, its forms of expression are always particular, concrete, physical. The (existential) conflict of soul and body has no inherent parallel in an aesthetic frame of reference, in DGR's view. (This was a view with which Holman Hunt, Buchanan, and others did not agree.) Consequently, the moral import of DGR's pictures, particularly after 1858, is usually ambiguous. We glimpse DGR's attitude in certain comments he made about this picture to his patron Leyland. In January 1872 he said it should be thought of as “a companion” to Lady Lilith, but in March its companion was said to be A Sea-Spell. Both of those pictures define ambiguous moral antitheses. The latter picture, for instance, is associated both with Coleridge's “damsel with a dulcimer” and with the sea sirens, while Lilith is in one view a demonic spirit, and in another Adam's prelapsarian beloved. Neverthless, although thematically similar in this way, the two pictures could scarcely be more different in their implications. The Lilith picture emphasizes the hard and threatening qualities of the woman (as in Sister Helen) while the other picture invites the viewer to sympathize with the figure of the dreaming siren, who seems to possess the innocence of a nature deity.

The same kind of ambiguity plays around Veronica Veronese—its stylisitc inspiration coming from a painter whose reputation was that of a brilliant, even a supreme technician, but one devoted to “worldly splendour” and to a “beauty. . .addressed more to the senses than to the soul” (these are the terms used by Kugler in Eastlake's translation of his Italian Schools of Painting (1837; 1851), which DGR knew very well and often drew upon). Hunt recoiled from DGR's turn to Venetian models, which he saw as the pursuit of an aesthetic committed to “mere gratification of the eye and if any passion at all—the animal passion. . .for my part I disavow any sort of sympathy with such notion if Art could not do better service than dress up the worst vices in the garb only deserved by innocence and virtue” (see Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 128 (no. 228) , Hunt's letter to Thomas Combe of 12 Feb. 1860). But of course to DGR the study of the relation between soul's beauty and body's beauty was exactly the point; indeed, it was his view that pictorial art was peculiarly suited to undertake such a study.


In an effort to represent a Veronesian artistic ethos, the painting draws upon certain common views of the great Venetian master. Particularly notable for this work are Kugler's remarks about Veronese in Eastlake's translation of his Italian Schools of Painting: Veronese's pictures were distinguished by “comprehensive keeping and harmony”; and “Never was the pomp of colour so exalted as in his works, which may be likened to concerts of enchanting music” (chapter 22). The literalness with which DGR's picture takes up that last thought is a kind of second-order emblem of his incarnational approach to art and its idealizing purposes.


The title of the picture has two important Dantean references: to the Vita Nuova chapter XL and to the Paradiso XXXI.103-111. Both deal with the image of Christ's face impressed on the cloth that Veronica used to cleanse his bloody face on his way to his death on Calvary. In each case Dante is treating in a complex allegorical fashion the importance of a “vera icon[ica],” or a “true image” that will lead the desiring soul to a meditative contact with divinity.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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