'Dante's Dream', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Painting with central figure in red kissing a woman with long red hair

Oil on canvas, painted about 1869-71, 216 x 312.4cm, National Museums Liverpool (Walker Art Gallery)

Rossetti's largest and most magnificent painting is also the most elaborate of his Dante subjects. It was conceived as early as 1848 and painted first in watercolour in 1856.

It represents the episode in the 'Vita Nuova' when Dante dreams of seeing Beatrice in death. Dante is led to Beatrice by the winged figure of Love, dressed in red, wearing the scallop shell of a pilgrim. Love carries a branch of apple-blossom, a spring flower and a symbol of unconsummated love, plucked before it comes to fruit. Poppies, the flower of sleep or death, litter the floor. The veil is laden with may-blossom, perhaps alluding to the season of Beatrice's death (June 9). A view of Florence is seen in the background.

Jane Morris was the model for Beatrice. When the painting was sold to Walker Art Gallery, Rossetti retouched the figure to combine Morris's features with the red colour of Elizabeth Siddal's hair. In this way, Rossetti's grandest representation of Beatrice has elements of both his most important models. He also experimented with this mix of Morris and Siddal in other works at the very end of his life.