The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1853
Model: Elizabeth Siddal is recognizable in the young woman
Model: Williams is the elderly companion
Model: W.M. Rossetti was finally pressed into service for the head of Dante


◦ Grieve, Art of DGR: Pre–Raphaelite Period, 18-20.

The Pre–Raphaelites , Tate 1984, 265-266.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, I. 22-23 (no. 58).

Scholarly Commentary


This is an important picture in the art history of the period. When it was shown to Ruskin by its purchaser, Francis McCracken, Ruskin was so impressed he wrote immediately to DGR (it was his first contact): “I think it is a thoroughly glorious work—the most perfect piece of Italy, in the accessory parts, I have ever seen in my life—not of Italy only—but of marvellous landscape painting. I might perhaps if we were talking about it, venture to point out one or two little things that appear to me questionable—but I shall write an unqualified expression of admiration to Mr. McCracken—and I can only to you—express my earnest hope that you will not allow any feeling of dissatisfaction with your own work to prevent you at anytime—from completing in such development as may be possible—your noble thoughts. I shall call on you in a day or two--hoping you will allow me the privilege of knowing you” (see Ruskin's letter to DGR, 10 April 1854, Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 30A ). Ruskin's admiration was succeeded by a like enthusiasm in Morris and Burne-Jones when they saw the picture a few years later.

This is DGR's second rendering of the same subject. The first is the drawing made in 1849. Both pictures are heavily influenced by Dürer and the Flemish works he saw on his trip to the continent in 1849.

Production History

The picture seems to have been complete early in 1853, which is the inscribed date. DGR mentions it as being available for purchase in February, and in July DGR actually offered it for sale to Francis McCracken (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 53. 16, 53. 41 ). After McCracken bought the picture DGR wrote him a long letter on 14 May 1854 detailing his general ideas about art and commenting specifically on this picture: “I had an idea of an intention of the possibility of a suggestion that the lady in my drawing should be Gemma Donati whom Dante married afterwards and for that reason meant to have put the Donati arms on the dresses of the three visitors, but could not find a suitable way of doing so. The visitors are unnamed in the text. But I had an idea also of connecting the pitying lady with another part of the V[ita] N[uova] and in part the sketch is full of notions of my own in this way, which would only be cared about by one to whom Dante was a chief study” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 46 ).


“A cross-bow, symbol of Dante's active life, hangs on an easel at the right of the picture beside a quill pen and ink bowl. On the left of the window is a lily, symbol of Florence, and on the right a pomegranate. Below the sill are vanitas symbols: a lute, a skull, an ivy tendril, and a book of Virgil” ( Grieve, The Pre–Raphaelites , Tate 1984, 266 ).


The picture references the scene in the Vita Nuova where Dante writes that “I set myself again to mine occupation, to wit, to the drawing figures of angels: in doing which, I conceived to write of this matter in rhyme, as for her anniversary” (see DGR's translation of The New Life ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s58.raw.xml