'Lady Lilith', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A young woman with long red hair is seated looking in a handheld mirror

Oil on canvas, dated 1868, 97.8 x 85.1cm, Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R Bancroft Memorial, 1935

This picture may have been designed simply as a toilette scene. Probably in 1866, Rossetti began to associate it with Lilith, the legendary first wife of Adam who deceived him before he met Eve.

The sonnet he wrote for the picture combines the two ideas by emphasizing the allure of Lilith's hair. Later this sonnet was called 'Body's Beauty', in opposition to 'Soul's Beauty', the sonnet associated with 'Sibylla Palmifera'.

'Body's Beauty'

Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.

The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.