'Helen of Troy', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a young woman with golden hair and clothing

Oil on panel, dated 1863, 32.8 x 27.7cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle

The subject of Helen of Troy brings together important ideas from this period of Rossetti's work. She was the most beautiful woman in the world, the adulterous lover of the Trojan prince Paris and a crucial figure in the Western poetic tradition. She points to a firebrand, symbol of her lover, while Troy burns behind her.

A Greek inscription on the reverse of the painting, from the 'Agamemnon' of Aeschylus, describes Helen as 'destroyer of ships, destroyer of men, destroyer of cities'. Each of the three Greek words begins with the syllable 'hel', repeating the first syllable of Helen's name.

The model was Annie Miller.