I’ve just finished watching Desperate Romantics, a 2009 BBC mini series.
I’ll be writing a post on it at a later date, seeing that I had to re-watch it the moment I finished.
What I adore about shows like this is that it compels me to learn more about the real life characters featured.
One I found most interesting was Elizabeth Siddal (Amy Manson), an artists model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , painter and poet.
In 1849, while she was working as a milliner in Cranbourne Alley, London, she was spotted and introduced to the world of art.
She was the long-time lover, and eventually wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner).
Lizzie was his primary muse throughout most of his youth.
Their relationship was turbulent, as Rossetti was a well-known womanizer.
One of the most famous painting of the era was Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851 and 1852.
Millais produced Ophelia in two separate stages: He first painted the landscape, and secondly the figure of Ophelia.
The painting depicts flora of the river and the riverbank in great detail, and the choice of flowers are symbolic.
When painting the figure, Millais had Siddal lie fully clothed in a full bathtub in his studio at 7 Gower Street in London.
As it was winter, he placed oil lamps under the tub to warm the water, but was so intent on his work that he allowed them to go out.
Unfortunately, Lizzie caught a severe cold, and her father later sent Millais a letter demanding £50 for medical expenses.
Ophelia’s pose, with her open arms and upwards gaze, resembles traditional portrayals of saints or martyrs, but has also been interpreted as erotic.
She was just 19 years old when she modelled for the painting that made her immortal.
Life with Rossetti was extremely difficult. and the previous ten years he had been engaged to her, he had broken it off at the last-minute several times and was known to have affairs with other women.
The stress of her relationship with Gabriel, frail health, rumoured anorexia, depression, and an addiction to laudanum, resulted in her death in 1862.
It was suspected that she committed suicide, but the fact was hidden from public knowledge at the time.
Under the law at the time suicide was both illegal and immoral and would have brought a scandal on the family as well, as suicide would bar Siddal from a Christian burial.
A year after her death, Rossetti painted Lizzie in Beata Beatrix, which shows a praying Beatrice from Dante Alighieri.
It was a memorial to her.
William Michael Rossetti described her as “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.”