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The inspiration was Dante’s Vita Nuova (‘New Life’), which explores the Italian poet’s idealised love for Beatrice and her premature death. As an omen of death, a bird drops a white poppy between her open hands. In the background the ghostly Dante gazes towards the figure of Love. Rossetti viewed this as a memorial to his wife and the model for Beatrice, Elizabeth Siddall, who had died in 1862. Rossetti had buried the manuscripts of his unpublished poems including ‘On the Vita Nuova of Dante’ with his wife but, in a macabre twist, retrieved and published them in 1870.

July 2010