Beauties of the 1860s

Detail from a painting showing a woman with long red hair

In 1859 Rossetti began to paint the magnificent series of beautiful female figures for which he is still most famous. Various different models posed for these pictures but they are not portraits.

The titles refer to stories of beauty or love from all times and places in history, legend and literature, often with a frank sexual dimension.

  • 'Fair Rosamund' is the illicit lover of a medieval king.
  • The surpassing beauty of 'Helen of Troy' led to the most famous war in literary history.
  • 'The Beloved' represents the Bride of the Biblical Song of Solomon.
  • 'Fazio's Mistress' shows the lover of an early Italian poet.

The sensual presentation of the figures is emphasised by compositions that bring them startlingly close to the viewer. His vibrant colours are reminiscent of the Venetian Renaissance paintings of Titian. Gorgeous accessories - flowers, jewels, textiles, ceramics - add to the mood of luxury and sensuous delight.