Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet, was born in London on this day May 12 1828. As a young man he could not decide whether to paint or write poetry and so throughout his life these subjects became closely intertwined in his works. Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, which was started in 1848. They sought to surpass the abilities of the painters earlier than Raphael through unifying ideals of extreme detail, intense colors and the ability to paint plein air while using live models. This was all reactionary, regarding their thoughts and feelings on spirituality and beauty being lost due to the onslaught of the machine-age. The painting Girlhood of Mary Virgin was the first piece of work, exhibited in 1949 by Rossetti, which revealed the identifying signature of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the initials P.R.B for short.
Proserpine, painted by Rossetti, was based on the story of the Greek Goddess and the myth of springtime. Proserpine (Persephone) is seen holding the forbidden pomegranate with which she was told not to eat, but alas, she was tricked into eating the fruit and its seeds and, as a result, she was forced to give up half of every year of her life to live in the Underworld with Hades (winter). Proserpine translates from Latin as “to emerge”, this being spring time. The light behind her represents a glimpse into the life of the upper world, and the ivy branch symbolizes persisting memories.
In real life, Jane Morris, then wife of William Morris, posed as the model for Proserpine because she embodied the beauty ideals so closely held by the P.R.B. There are three versions of this painted in oil, dated 1877, 1874 (Tate Gallery) and 1882.