Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Proserpina

by Alexandra Tuschka


Jane Morris is the name of the model Rossetti repeatedly portrayed in his paintings. An almost obsessive admiration connected the painter with his muse. She, however, was married to a fellow painter and thus unattainable and fatefully trapped.

This connects the model with the person she mimes: Proserpina was kidnapped by Pluto while collecting flowers. Her father Zeus tolerated that the latter took Proserpina to the underworld. However, her mother Demeter, the fertility goddess, stopped all vegetation on earth out of grief. Zeus was now forced to act. He allowed Demeter to bring her daughter back from the underworld - on one condition: Proserpina must not have consumed anything in the underworld yet. However, it was already too late and the daughter had already bitten into a pomegranate. Nevertheless, Proserpina was allowed to spend half of the year on the surface, but the other half she had to spend with Pluto in the underworld. In ancient times, it was believed that this was the reason for the changing of the tides: Demeter mourns in winter and rejoices in summer. In this painting, Proserpina also holds the fateful apple in her hand, from which she has already bitten off a piece. The dark-haired beauty appears devout.


In a letter to the commissioner W. A. Turner, the artist himself describes Proserpina here in a corridor. In the background a hatch opens and lets in a ray of light from the upper world, which her gaze follows furtively. The incense burning in a bowl next to her suggests her divinity, and the ivy vine can be seen as a symbol of oppressive memory. In the upper right corner of the picture is a sonnet describing Proserpina's longing for the upper world.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Proserpina

Oil on canvas, 1874, 61 x 125.1 cm, Tate Museum in London