'Fazio's Mistress (Aurelia)', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a young woman knotting her long red hair

Oil on panel, dated 1863, 43.2 x 36.8cm, Tate. Purchased with assistance through the National Art Collections Fund from Sir Arthur Du Cros Bt and Sir Otto Beit 1916

The original title refers to a poem by Dante's contemporary Fazio degli Uberti, which describes the poet's act of looking at his beloved, as if she is appearing before his very eyes (as she does in the painting).

I look at the crisp golden-threaded hair
Whereof, to thrall my heart, Love twists a net
... I look at the amorous beautiful mouth
... I look at her white easy neck, so well
From shoulders and from bosom lifted out

The painting dwells on the same physical features, even down to a ring mentioned in a later stanza.

In 1869 Rossetti changed the title to 'Aurelia', replacing the literary reference with one to the figure's golden hair. This was at the height of discussion about 'art for art's sake. Rossetti may have wished to play down any hint that the picture was an illustration of a pre-existing literary source, rather than an independent work of art in its own right.