Arthur's Tomb

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1855
Subject: “Launcelot is bending over the marble effigy of King Arthur and gazes intently into the face of Guenevere beseeching a kiss”, which she is refusing (see Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 34).


◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 61-62.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 34-35 (no. 73).

The Pre–Raphaelites , Tate 1984, 276-277

◦ Treuherz, Prettijohn, Becker, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 175.

Scholarly Commentary


The picture deals with a central Rossettian subject, the conflict (and relation) between sacred and profane love, and the structures of guilt that arise from it. DGR's work exhibits a continuous exploration of the topic, which is an especially urgent one in all of its many Judaeo-Christian forms.

Production History

This is the first of the famous series of Arthurian watercolours that DGR executed in the 1850s. Two complete versions of this picture exist: one, the original watercolor, executed in 1855, and a copy made in 1860. The original is dated on the picture 1854 but from DGR's letter to Madox Brown of 4 September 1855 and his later letter to Allingham, it's clear that DGR was working on the picture in mid-1855 and completed it late in the year (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 55. 45, 55. 58 ).


The picture references events detailed in Book XXI of Malory's Morte d'Arthur (chapter 7, 9, 10), which DGR knew in Robert Southey's edition of 1817, The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of King Arthur . Since the scene occurs at Almesbury, where Guenevere entered a convent after Arthur's death, and Arthur's tomb is at Glastonbury, DGR has used a certain license in his representation. Given DGR's intention in his picture, however, the license is as impressive as it is understandable. William Morris later poem, “King Arthur's Tomb” , was probably inspired in part by DGR's picture.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s73.raw.xml