Astarte Syriaca

Alternately titled: Venus Astarte

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Physical Description

Medium: oil
Dimensions: 72 x 42 in.
Frame: DGR designed the frame.
Signature: signature
Date on Image: 1877
Note: The signature and date are inscribed at lower left.

Production Description

Production Date: 1876-1877
Exhibition History: R.A., 1883 (no.332); Manchester 1911 (no.220); Institute of Contemporary Art August 1951; R.A., 1973 (no.363); Rotterdam–Paris 1975-76 (no.308); Tate 1984 (no.147)
Patron: Clarence Fry
Date Commissioned: 1877
Original Cost: £2100
Note: This was the largest price ever paid to DGR for a picture. He apparently gave Fry at the same time a collection of studies for the work.
Model: Jane Morris
Note: Jane Morris was the model for the principal figure.
Model: May Morris
Note: May Morris, the daughter of William and Jane Morris, was the model for the left attendant.


Current Location: Manchester City Art Gallery
Catalog Number: 1891. 5
Archival History: Clarence E. Fry; Manchester City Art Gallery

Scholarly Commentary


DGR's friend Theodore Watts–Dunton suggests that he was (by chance) responsible for the development of this painting out of the chalk drawing of Jane Morris that DGR made in 1875. He told DGR that the drawing “expressed exactly the idea of one of the Oriental Venuses—(Al Husa, perhaps—or else the Syrian Venus) who, growing less and less mystical as she travelled, became the Aphrodite of Western poetry.” Watts goes on to say that DGR made two efforts at the painting because he thought the British public might not be able to appreciate his “experiments in flesh-painting” in which “the corporeal part of man seemed more and more to be the symbol of the spiritual” (see Watts–Dunton's essay on DGR in The Nineteenth Century, March 1883, pages 412-413).

Production History

DGR accepted Clarence Fry's commission for the picture in August 1875 after Fry had seen DGR's composition studies that he had made during the summer. DGR told Fry that the picture “has been some time in my mind, and some time even in preparatory progress” (Doughty and Wahl, Letters, vol. III, 1344). He worked at the picture in the fall and winter of 1875-1876, but abandoned this early work around March, when he “began the Astarte a second time, as the first beginning had not satisfied me” (Doughty and Wahl, Letters, vol. III, 1418). It was all but finished in December 1876, when he was much concerned about the frame; it was “just finished” by 31 January 1877 (Doughty and Wahl, Letters, vol. IV, 1473).


Venus stands in a traditional “pudica” pose, and distinctly recalls Botticelli's famous Venus, though DGR's treatment is more imposing than graceful.

Faxon acutely notes the effectiveness of DGR's glazing of the picture, a technique he developed after studying Titian's remarkable use of “successive glazes to create rich, glowing color” (Faxon 193). Another important technical aspect of the work was pointed out by Watts–Dunton: that in this picture and a number of his other late works DGR followed a “method . . . of laying in his heads in genuine ‘ultramarine’ and white . . . to give . . . his afterpainting that dreamy suggestiveness to the flesh which his mysterious conceptions required” (“The Truth about Rossetti,” 412).

Alastair Grieve compares the attendant figures in this painting with Blake's angels in several of his engravings for the Book of Job. Perhaps even more notable is the striking echo of traditional representations of the enthroned Madonna. The painting also recalls DGR's earlier work Dantis Amor , in which the figure of Love (gendered male) stands between the sun and the moon.


DGR wrote a sonnet for the picture which was first published in 1877 as part of F. G. Stephens' notice of the painting in the Athenaeum (p. 487). The sonnet was written in 1877, sometime before 10 March (Doughty and Wahl, Letters, vol. IV, 1481).


The fact that Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris for the left attendant figure) is surely relevant to an appreciation of the picture. So is the fact that one of DGR's studies for the painting, the ink drawing originally owned by Clarence Fry, formed part of DGR's Perlascura series, which he projected as an elaborate act of homage to Mrs. Morris.


Astarte Syriaca
Copyright: ©Manchester City Art Galleries


  1. image

    Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial , facing 192.
  2. image

    Phythian, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , 42.
  3. image

    Gowans and Gray, Masterpieces of DGR , 57.
  4. image

    Radford, Dante Gabriel Rossetti , 51.
  5. image

    Delaware Art Museum Hollyer print.
  6. image

    Delaware Art Museum Hollyer print.
  7. Ash, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

    (image unavailable)
  8. image

    Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 2, plate 371.
  9. image

    Angeli, DGR con 107 illustrazioni , 24.
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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