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This is the abandoned first version of one of Rossetti's most important pictures, The Blessed Damozel (1875-8). He first treated the subject in a poem started in 1848, which describes a dead woman's yearning for her still-living lover. In the completed painting, Rossetti shows the Damozel looking down on her beloved from Heaven; this is the scene shown here. Rossetti's fascination with the separation imposed by death proved eerily prophetic when his wife Elizabeth died of an overdose in 1862. Despite their differences, he identified with the grief of the poet Dante [see Beata Beatrix, nearby], mourning too, perhaps, the purity of their lost love.

August 2004