'Silence', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Unfiinished portrait painting of a seated woman

Black and red chalk on paper, dated 1870, 104.5 x 76cm, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Mr Luke Vincent Lockwood 46.188

Rossetti explained the symbolism of this drawing: 'Silence holds in one hand a branch of peach, the symbol used by the ancients; its fruit being held to resemble the human heart and its leaf the human tongue. With the other hand she draws together the veil enclosing the shrine in which she sits`.

Such evocations of silence and mystical inwardness would become important, along with Rossetti's influence, in the Symbolist art of the later 19th century.

The drawing can also be given a more narrow, biographical interpretation. According to contemporaries, Jane Morris, the model for this work, was an unusually silent woman. Indeed, her reticence must have been a crucial source of the impression she projected of remoteness or unfathomability. Thus this piece can could also be seen as a character study of Morris.

Although it may appear unfinished, the blank spaces within the drawing correspond to the conception of the piece. They represent what cannot be seen or heard: the idea of silence.