'Roman Widow' ('Ds Manibus'), Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a seated woman holding a stringed musical instrument in her right hand

Oil on canvas, dated 1874, 103.7 x 91.2cm, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico

A widow of ancient Rome sits beside the urn containing her husband's ashes. She plays two musical instruments in her husband's honour and in expression of her grief.

Rossetti based the marble cinerary urn on one he owned himself. He copied the instruments from Pompeian wall paintings.

Rossetti is usually seen as a medievalist, like his friends Burne-Jones and William Morris, rather than a classicist like Lord Leighton or Lawrence Alma-Tadema, whom he also knew. Yet a surprising number of his subjects derive from classical sources. He also made frequent use of the Latin he learned at school in titles and inscriptions.

The magnificent array of shades of white is a tour de force. This display of painting skill could be interpreted as an attempt to rival Alma-Tadema, who was becoming famous at around this time for his representation of white marble. Also, the care taken with the archaeological details responds to the newly fashionable classicism of Alma-Tadema. The silver marriage girdle, the white mourning draperies and the musical instruments are all based on archaeological sources.