Dante's Dream card

Dante's Dream

WAG 3091

On display


In this enormous, richly-coloured hypnotic painting the medieval Florentine poet Dante is led in a dream by the angel Love to the deathbed of Beatrice, object of his unrequited passion. It's a scene from a poem from Dante's autobiographical work the 'Vita Nuova' - 'New Life'. Lines from the poem are on the frame. At the end of the 'Vita Nuova' Beatrice actually dies. But in death, as in life, she continued to be his inspiration. The artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, changed the order of his names in honour of his hero. He'd translated the 'Vita Nuova' in 1848, some twenty years before this painting. That same year he co-founded the Pre-Raphaelites. They wanted to recapture the realism and spiritual purpose they believed existed in art in the thirteen hundreds - Dante's time - before the Italian artist Raphael. Like the medieval artists the Pre-Raphaelites conveyed meaning through symbols. Here there are poppies for sleep and death, and apple-blossom for purity. The ladies' green robes symbolise hope. The flame-red of Love's robe, and of the two doves, is love itself. Unbelievably, the faces were modeled by different women, and Love by a man. Beatrice is Rossetti's lover Jane Morris. However just before the painting came to the Walker in 1881, Rossetti repainted Beatrice's black hair to copper - like that of his dead wife and previous muse, Lizzie Siddall. The lack of spatial depth in the painting is another medieval convention. It's emphasised by the flat, wide frame - designed by Rossetti. He envisaged frame and picture as a single decorative object. The motifs on it echo the symbolism in the painting, with butterflies representing the soul in flight. There's another painting in this room from the 'Vita Nuova' story - by artist Henry Holiday. From the 1850s the London Pre-Raphaelites exhibited at the Liverpool Academy of Art's annual exhibitions. Liverpool collectors like John Miller bought their work. Local artists including William Windus followed their ideas - encouraged particularly by Rossetti - and a group of 'Liverpool Pre-Raphaelites' emerged. The two groups' mutual support was crucial when Pre-Raphaelite painting was criticized for being backward and ugly. There are works by the Liverpool Pre-Raphaelites in Room Six.