This is an early, unfinished version of Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel (1875-8, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University). The picture was begun in September 1873, but, after working on the head, the artist soon abandoned it and had it cut down to its current size. The subject derives from one of Rossetti's own poems, first published in 1850 in The Germ:
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.
The poem expresses the longing felt by a dead woman for her lover, who is still alive. In the finished picture she looks down towards her beloved, who is depicted in the predella below. Behind her, pairs of lovers, united once again in heaven, embrace joyfully. The inspiration for Rossetti was clearly the premature death of his own wife, Lizzie Siddal, who died from an overdose of laudanum. Rossetti may also have been influenced in his choice of subject by the thoughts and writings of the Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)…