La Ghirlandata

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1873
Model: Alexa Wilding (Alexa Wilding sat for the main figure.)
Model: May Morris (Angel heads taken from May Morris.)


◦ Fredeman, Correspondence, 73.190, 73.248, 73.252, 73.257.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 172.

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 228-230.

◦ Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 73-4, 83.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 131-132.

◦ WMR, DGR: Designer and Writer, 86-87.

Scholarly Commentary


WMR's early commentary on the picture is much to the point: “The name La Ghirlandata may be translated ‘The Garlanded Lady,’ or ‘The Lady of the Wreath.’ The personage is represented singing, as she plays on a musical instrument; two youthful angels listen. The flowers which are prominent in the picture were intended by my brother for the poisonous monkshood: I believe he made a mistake, and depicted larkspur instead. I never heard him explain the underlying significance of this picture: I suppose he purposed to indicate, more or less, youth, beauty, and the faculty for art worthy of a celestial audience, all shadowed by mortal doom” ( WMR, DGR: Designer and Writer, 86-87 ). But it seems quite clear that the picture is also a (so to speak) Venetian rendering of Keats's singing and garlanded “Belle Dame Sans Merci”. The picture thus connects back to some of DGR's earliest work, such as the drawing of La Belle Dame Sans Merci as well as to several of the late, ominous pictures, like Ligeia Siren.

Production History

DGR was working on the picture in early July 1873, and by the middle of the month it had been paid for by William Graham (£840) and was, DGR told Charles Howell, “well advanced”. On August 23 he wrote to Watts-Dunton that “I have now nearly finished [a picture] I call La Ghirlandata. It contains three heads—a lady playing on a harp and two angels listening—and an infinity of other material—and in brilliancy is more like the Beloved than any other picture of mine you have seen. It belongs to Graham, who wants it in Scotland, but perhaps I may send it for a few days to London to show to a few”. He described the picture to Treffry Dunn in these terms: “The one I am doing for him now is not B[lesse]d Dam[oze]l but that figure playing on the queer old harp which I drew from Miss W[ilding] when you were here with her. The two heads of little May are at the top of the picture. It will really be a successful thing I am sure now, and is getting fast towards completion, but I have not yet got the frame. It ought to put Graham in a good humour and I am glad he is to have it as he is the only buyer I have who is worth a damn.” And to William Bell Scott he wrote even more enthusiastically: “For some six weeks past I have been at work solely on a picture now just finished and called La Ghirlandata—about 4 feet by 3. It is a woman playing on a sort of solid harp I have—an instrument stringed on both sides and very paintable in form. Behind her two angels lean through foliage and listen, and there is an immensity of work in the picture which is quite full of flowers and leaves all most carefully done from nature. It is the greenest picture in the world I believe—the principal figure being dressed in green and completely surrounded with glowing green foliage. I believe it is my very best picture—no inch of it worse than another.” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 73.190, 73.248, 73.252, 73.257 ).

DGR made a sketch for the picture as well as a finished study in chalks.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s232.raw.xml