Around 1870 the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti produced one of his more famous works, Beata Beatrix (‘Blessed Beatrix’):
He modeled the figure after his late wife Lizzie Siddal, though her friends couldn’t see much resemblance to her; they thought the figure an idealized version of Siddal rather than a realistic representation. Indeed, many of Rossetti’s paintings were his idealized versions of women.
After Rossetti’s death, his sister Christina wrote a scathing poem about his paintings, “In an Artist’s Studio.” Pay close attention to the first two and last two lines:
One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel;–every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, nor with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
“One face,” and “One selfsame figure,” . . . “Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.”
I’m left to wonder how many of today’s versions of idealized women come directly from men.