Study for the Blessed Damozel
c1873 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Victoria & Albert Museum
Looking at the masterful faces of Botticelli, it is fitting to remember those that were in awe of him, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. In Rossetti’s beautifully conjured study we can see just how far this celebration goes – the tilt of the head, the serenity of expression, the oval face; all echo Botticelli’s women. The eyes and features are so still, frozen in a gaze, that she possesses a statuesque silence, one that Rossetti deemed to be the centre of classic beauty in his paintings. However, here in a study – with the softness of sketching and crumbling chalk – the damozel is not statue-white but warmed with the medium, the breath of life alive in her face. The colour is all natural, soft skin tone and the light haze of loose hairs, far from the tight golden tendrils of Botticelli’s painted hair. This is the attraction of a drawing, of the effect of soft chalk; Rossetti’s paintings do not possess such texture. It is pre-emptive in every way, of both the painting and the idea, visuality being composed before us – from the outline to the depth of colour and shading. Forming before our eyes the damozel appears, a shadow of creation from Rossetti’s mind.