'The Blue Bower', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a young woman playing a musical instrument on a table

Oil on canvas, dated 1865, 84 x 70.9cm, The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham

The word 'bower', denoting the private apartment of a medieval woman, was a favourite of Rossetti's.

The medieval associations of the title are combined with the Titianesque red hair, close-up composition and vivid colour of Rossetti's Venetian-inspired beauty. There are also hints of the Far East, as the instrument has been identified as a Japanese 'koto' and the background tiles recall Chinese ceramics. The heart-shaped pendant later belonged to Jane Morris.

The cornflowers are perhaps a reference to the model, Fanny Cornforth. The passion flowers and convolvulus behind the figure can be read as symbols of passion and the 'bonds of love' respectively.