Technical analysis of 'The Blessed Damozel'

It took Rossetti several years to complete this painting, finally finishing in 1881. 'The Blessed Damozel' consists of two separate paintings linked together by a frame which is very much part of the artwork. Technical analysis of the paintings show, as you would expect, that Rossetti used the same pigments and techniques for both paintings.

The main ground in Rossetti's 'Blessed Damozel' was found to consist of chalk. However, in several areas an additional ground of lead white had been added on top of the chalk layer. The cross section of the paint (1) from the roses and foliage to the centre left of the painting, shows that the paint layer appears to have been painted while the white ground was wet. The coloured paint layers have disturbed the white ground. The pigments used by Rossetti for the 'Blessed Damozel' include transparent and semi-transparent pigments such as emerald green and the red lake pigments seen in sample illustrated here.

Description below

Paint cross section from red dress at left edge of Rossetti's 'Blessed Damozel' (photographed at x 250 magnification). The lead white ground has been disturbed when the red and green paint were applied. This indicates that it was still wet when the other layers were applied

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This image shows a x 12.5 magnification of the red glaze in the Damozel's hair. It is an example of a simple glaze. You can see a mix of large yellow pigments and smaller red pigments.

Previous studies of Pre-Raphaelite technique have found that the artists tended to use simple pigment combinations, applied in translucent layers (2). In contrast, in some areas of the 'Blessed Damozel' the paint layers are mixtures of three or more pigments, as well as areas where the more characteristic layers of single colours are seen. Other pigments identified include artificial ultramarine in a solid blue layer, green, orange and brown earth pigments, as well as emerald green and red lakes, including madder.

Photograph of a slide, description follows below

This bright green glaze was found on the stem from the lily which lies across the arm of the Damozel.

The 'Blessed Damozel' has a glossy finish, with parts that are distinctly more glossy than others. Microscopic examination of the surface of the painting showed that it was covered with a thinly pigmented layer. The paint cross sections were studied in ultra-violet (UV) light (images 4and 5) and this layer fluoresces brightly in UV, in contrast to the underlying paint layer. This bright fluorescence is characteristic of natural resins, and may indicate that a resin such as copal was used in the glaze.

Cross-section, description follows below

Paint cross section from the 'Blessed Damozel', showing a thick, lightly pigmented translucent layer over the green paint. A thin, light brown paint layer can also be seen directly above the ground layer. Taken at x 250 magnification.

Ultra violet image, description follows below

The same cross section photographed in ultra-violet light, showing the fluorescing pigmented layer on the surface. The ground also fluoresces, but the green paint layer does not fluoresce and remains dark in the image. Taken at x 250 magnification.

A thin layer of light brown paint directly over the chalk ground was also seen in many of the paint cross sections from this painting. Rossetti seems to have applied a uniform 'wash' of light brown colour over the ground. This effect can also be seen on the unfinished painting 'La Donna della Finestra' (1881, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery), also on display in the Rossetti exhibition, but not included in this web feature.