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
The Nineteenth Century, March 1883, pages 412-413).
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
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).
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
, 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
(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
series, which he projected as an elaborate act of homage to Mrs.