Ligeia Siren

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1873 March
Model: unknown (Treffry Dunn found this female model for DGR.)


◦ Fredeman, Correspondence, 73.62, 73.64, 73.68.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 172.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 134 (no. 234).

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 85.

Scholarly Commentary


The picture is yet another exploration of the figure of a dangerous Beauty, nearly always represented as a woman (e.g., La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Lilith). This work is perhaps most closely related to the elaborate oil of 1877, A Sea Spell, which gives another representation of a siren. In Ligeia Siren the vessel in the seascape background is a clear allusion to Ulysses and the general tradition of sailing adventurers who are lured toward destruction by the singing of the sirens.

Traditonal Greek legend most often names Parthenope, Ligeia, and Leucosia as the sirens, but different texts identify as many as eight sirens. In a manuscript draft of epigraphs for his early poem “The Card-Dealer”, DGR invented a source text with three sirens named Telxiope, Telsinoe, and Aglaophemia. DGR's most intense textual treatments of this set of topics and themes is made in “The Doom of the Sirens” and the related story “The Orchard-pit”.

Production History

The chalk drawing was begun in late February 1873 and completed, apparently, in March. He wrote to Madox Brown on February 26 that “We have in the house a singular housemaid of advanced ideas, known to Dunn, and come hither as a model, not as a housemaid. I am making a drawing of her, and she does well enough.” The model, he noted in a letter to Brown of 4 March, was “one found by Dunn [and I] have made from her a drawing nearly down to the knees of a naked Siren playing on an extraordinary lute, which is certainly one of my best doings. I might probably have set to and painted it, but the girl could not stay longer at present.” On March 2 DGR wrote to Howell, who bought the picture from him, that “I have had a model here for four days - she went yesterday evening. I repainted from her that head in Leyland's picture, and have made a drawing from her—naked and almost to the knees—of a Siren playing on a lute. It is one of my very best things, and the unpopular central detail [i.e., her pudendum] will eventually be masked by a fillet of flying drapery coming from a veil twisted in the hair so as to render it saleable.” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 73.62, 73.64, 73.68 ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s234.raw.xml