'The Blue Closet', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Scene with four women, two of them in the centre playing a musical instrument

Watercolour on paper, dated 1857, 34.3 x 24.8cm, Tate. Purchased with assistance through the National Art Collections Fund from Sir Arthur Du Cros Bt and Sir Otto Beit 1916

Four medieval women sing and play on an invented musical instrument, combining keyboard, plucked strings and bells. The rich colours and patterning derive from medieval illuminated manuscripts. The figures are in contrasting pairs, each almost mirroring the other, creating a dreamlike effect.

The meaning of the painting is unclear, although it evokes the same medieval fantasy world seen in other similar works by the artist. It may be intended to symbolise the association of colour with music, but Rossetti made no explicit references to its meaning himself.

This painting's rejection of narrative in favour of suggestion and mood and its emphasis on decorative values, similar to others in the same group, mark the beginnings of the Aesthetic Movement.