This was the second of Hughes's paintings to be commissioned by Miss Ellen Heaton of Leeds (see also Aurora Leigh's Dismissal of Romney ('The Tryst'), 1860, Tate Gallery N05245). Miss Heaton and Hughes began discussing the commission in December 1860, but the work was not completed until 1862. The patron paid thirty-five guineas for the work.
The subject is from the poem 'A Court Lady' by Elizabeth Barret Browning, who was a friend of Miss Heaton. It appeared in Poems before Congress, published in 1860. The poem describes a beautiful young woman who puts on full court dress in order to visit hospitalised soldiers who fought in the Risorgimento. Her maids dress her in
Diamonds to fasten the hair, diamonds to fasten the sleeves
Laces to drop from their rays, like a powder of snow from the eves… (read more)