'Dante's vision of Rachel and Leah'

Two young women sit by a stream

Watercolour on paper, drawn in 1855, 35.2 x 31.4cm, Tate. Bequeathed by Beresford Rimington Heaton 1940

This watercolour represents the scene Dante sees in a dream (the poet appears at top left). Rachel and Leah, from the story of Jacob in the Biblical book of 'Genesis', can be interpreted as allegories of the contemplative and active lives. Rachel, on the left, contemplates her own reflection in the pool of water, while Leah is actively engaged in gathering flowers to adorn herself.

The writer and art critic John Ruskin commissioned this painting. He was encouraging Rossetti to attempt more elevated subjects with religious or spiritual themes rather than romantic implications. Rossetti did not, however, respond to Ruskin's suggestions for further subjects from Dante's 'Purgatorio'.