'Beata Beatrix', Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Oil on canvas, painted about 1863-70, 86.4 x 66cm, Tate. Presented by Georgiana, Baroness Mount-Temple in memory of her husband, Francis, Baron Mount-Temple 1889
The picture represents a vision of Dante's Beatrice at the precise moment of her death. It has a double subject for the principal figure is both Dante's Beatrice and Elizabeth Siddal.
The title ('Blessed Beatrice') refers to the end of the 'Vita Nuova'. The picture links Siddal (the person literally represented) to Beatrice.
The red dove, a messenger of love, was associated by Rossetti with Siddal. It bears a white poppy, a symbol of sleep or death and the source of laudanum, the cause of Siddal's death. In the background is Dante (right) looking towards Love (left), dressed in red and holding a flame.
The picture, however, is perfectly comprehensible as a simple representation of Beatrice. It does not depend on recognition of the artist's dead wife for its meaning. In fact, Rossetti stressed the Dantesque subject and not the likeness to Siddal in letters to the picture's buyers. By the time of his death and the memorial exhibition of his works, however, the identity of the portrait was widely known.