Rosa Triplex

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1865-1874 (circa)
Model: May Morris (May Morris is the model for all three figures in the watercolour version.)
Model: Alexa Wilding (Alexa Wilding sat for the heads of the chalk version.)


◦ Angeli, DGR con 107 illustrazione, 139.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 155-156, 178.

◦ Pedrick, Life with Rossetti, 174.

◦ Radford, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, xvi, 44.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 135-136 (no. 238).

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, no. 348.

◦ Surtees, Diaries of George Price Boyce, 61.

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 64, 75.

Scholarly Commentary


Triple portraits have a long tradition in the history of art, and have been commissioned from painters by patrons from Charles I to Cardinal Richelieu, who wished to have their busts sculpted by artists whose distance precluded their actually sitting for the work. Although DGR would certainly have been familiar with well-known works such as van Dyck's Charles I in Three Positions, or Champaigne's Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (in the National Gallery from 1869), his triple portraits of Alexa Wilding and May Morris were not painted as aide-mémoires for sculptors, but rather as meditations on the beauty of one female form, rotated in space. DGR makes little effort to disguise the multiplication of the model's identity, or to distinguish the three figures from one another. The title itself suggests duplication. At the same time, these works recall the Three Graces, or even the Three Fates, subjects that long interested DGR and are evident in works like The Maids of Elfen-Mere or The Maries at the Foot of the Cross.

Production History

In the earliest, chalk versions of Rosa Triplex, Alexa Wilding sat for each of the heads. When, in February of 1874, DGR had difficulty getting Alexa Wilding to sit for him in order execute a replica, he instead had May Morris model for the watercolour (see Pedrick, Life with Rossetti, 174).


The earliest sketches have a dynamic quality absent from the finished watercolour and chalk drawings. The chalk drawings in particular eschew narrative, the figures against a plain dark ground, and behind a rough table or ledge. WMR notes that the 1874 watercolour version of this picture was intended to be a pendant, first to Hesterna Rosa and then to The Return of Tibullus to Delia, both then in the collection of Frederick Craven (see WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 75 ). Considering the highly literary and narrative nature of these multifigure compositions, DGR probably intended Rosa Triplex to be an appropriate companion to either work for its chromatic resonance.


Other examples of DGR's interest in the multiplication of a single female form include A Parable of Love, Venus surrounded by mirrors reflecting her in different views, How They Met Themselves and Bonifazio's Mistress. These works envision the mystical act of duplicating both the spirit and form of a figure through the practical art of painting and its complicated reproductive capacity.

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