This painting and The Beloved shown nearby, are part of a series Rossetti painted as a sensual celebration of female beauty. The model for Monna Vanna was Alexa Wilding, who first sat to him in 1865.
Rossetti chose the title (suggesting a vain woman) after the picture was completed. A lady named Monna appears in the works of the early Italian writers Dante and Boccaccio. This picture can be seen as an imaginary portrait of her, as well as a real portrait of the model. Rossetti called it ‘probably the most effective ... room decoration which I have ever painted’.