“Venus Verticordia”



by Dante Gabriel Rossetti





She hath the apple in her hand for thee,                  

Yet almost in her heart would hold it back;

She muses, with her eyes upon the track

Of that which in thy spirit they can see.

Haply, "Behold, he is at peace," saith she;             

"Alas! the apple for his lips, - the dart

That follows its brief sweetness to his heart, -

The wandering of his feet perpetually!"

A little space her glance is still and coy,

But if she gives the fruit that works her spell,       

Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.

Then shall her bird's strained throat the woe foretell,

And her far seas moan as a single shell,

And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy.



The painting in this webpage: http://www.geidai.ac.jp/museum/exhibit/2003/Victorian/exhibits/rossetti_en.htm




Venus Verticordia

c 1863- 1868

82 x 69 cm

oil on canvas





First of all, this commentary is going to focus on a painting and a sonnet called “Venus Verticordia” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This author belongs to the Pre- Raphaelite period and in this period it was usual that people dedicated to art had interests in drawing and writing. Rossetti painted first this picture at about 1863- 1869 and wrote the sonnet in 1868. (Dante Gabriel Rossetti- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (also known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.


The group's intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach adopted by the Mannerist artists who followed Raphael and Michelangelo. (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).


The sonnet explains the ideas of the author, what Rossetti sees and feels through the painting.


Both elements can not be separated; they have too much relation to be separated. You can see the painting and think about it, but when you read the sonnet, it gives you a feeling of reality, of a real situation and, especially, a feeling of a real woman.


The painting is sensual since the woman appears naked and rich as all the picture is full of details, as for instance: roses, butterflies, the woman, the bird…. Rossetti’s work has not much luminosity, because the colours are not very bright. This is a realistic painting with clear representations of nature like the apple (line 1), the bird (line 12), the seas (line 13) and the shell (line 13).


The most significant in both the painting and the sonnet is the combination of symbolism and realism that Rossetti shows us. On one hand symbolism in those details that we do not see when we observe the painting and when we read the sonnet. A clear example would be the reference that the author does to Eve, a religious myth, and it reflects the sin. We can see it in the painting where the woman has an apple in her hand with the combination of the arrow, referring to sin of love, and other elements. The author opens the sonnet also referring to Eve, although Rossetti does not mention this name. On the other hand, the realism belongs to all the painting together. Rossetti shows us the different elements of the nature in a real way, everything is true and everything is real, although all these are painted.


In these works jut out the woman, I mean the woman is the most important in the work since the author has dedicated it to her. This woman is Venus, as we can see in the title of both the painting and the sonnet, the ancient goddess of love. I think that this woman is a combination between religious and romanticism. Venus is religious because of the myth of Eve’s apple when she tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and she is romantic (she incites men to do “something”- to sin) because she is painted in a sensual or provocative way and she can be attractive to men. We can not observe this in the sonnet because as the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Of the woman everything stands out: her whiteness (showing purity, openness), her long and wavy hair, her meaty lips and her bare breast. All these characteristics together with the sensuality that this woman gives off, lead the men to sin, the women incite men to do something bad for their religion, it is a provocation.


Around the woman there are a lot of flowers (at the top roses and down I do not know what type of flowers they are). The combination of the background of the painting is also a symbolism. The colour red represents love, passion and in the painting this colour is the predominant one. Another colour is the green of the leaves that represents hope. These two colours together symbolize the hope of love.


Another symbolism is the arrow that the woman holds in her hand, the position that it is, it goes directly to her heart. This arrow has relation with Cupid, who by means of his arrow makes people fall in love. Venus Verticordia is ready to fall in love. This action also makes men to sin. Everything in the painting has relation with love.


The bird, which appears in the background, also is a symbolism. The bird is flying with its own freedom and, I think, that it shows the woman’s freedom to provoke men. Inside this symbolism of woman’s freedom would be also the butterflies that are around Venus. They fly and stop wherever they want, they are free. In this case there are butterflies stopped on the aureole or something similar that Venus has in her head. I think that this crown refers to her virginity. With all these things we found in this painting some ambiguity with the combination of sensual, provocative with her lips and virgin with her particular crown.


This woman and most of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s models are young, beautiful and free women. These portrayals of women painted in this position and with this luxury were the focus of Rossetti’s works. (BBC, painting flowers).


On the other hand, we can see that the sonnet reflects what the painting says.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote the sonnet after painting Venus Verticordia. It is about a sonnet of fourteen lines, each line is composed by ten syllables (iambic pentameter) and the rhyme scheme is: ABBAACCADEDEED.


The meaning of the sonnet is ambiguous and it runs through the work because while you are reading it you doubt if it is referring to a myth or it is another story invented by the poet. The author is not clear at all. Examples are the first lines of the sonnet, the ambiguity fall on the myth of Eve, Rossetti says “She hath the apple in her hand for thee”, in other words she is waiting for the arrival of a man to make him sin. We can say that Rossetti does not use an elaborate language, the sonnet is easy to understand and it is also possible because the painting helps you a lot.


The author dedicates the sonnet and the painting to a woman in all her beauty, but there is a combination of good and evil. Good refers to the beauty of this human being created by God, and the evil refers to the provocation of sin. The author transmits fear and fascination, feelings that probably Rossetti had to women.


This sonnet is autobiographical since Rossetti sometimes repainted over the head of his initial model the face of his lovers. “An index of the powerful ambiguity at work in the painting and the poem is found in the model DGR chose for his Venus. Initially this was “a very large young woman, almost a giantess,” whom DGR “noticed in the street”. That was in 1864. In 1867 DGR repainted the head, and this time Alexa Wilding was the model. The substitution of Wilding, whom he used for idealized figures, in place of the cook he found in the street, glosses the character of the ambiguous work that DGR was trying to realize”. (Venus Verticordia(for a picture)


In the sonnet we can find some key images. One of these is the personification that Rossetti gives to the seas, it is: “…and her far seas moan as a single shell” (line 13). The author refers to the sea as if it was a person and as if the sea could pronounce this sound. Also in this sonnet we can see the typical use in the language of poets of the pronoun “thee” (line 1) and the possessive adjective “thy” (line 4).


In the painting there is no reference to men (probably the Venus Verticordia was painted for men), whereas, the author in the sonnet is aimed at a man as we can see in the first line and much better with the personal pronoun “he” (lines 6,7, 8)


From my point of view I think this paper has been funnier than the rest, the painting has helped me a lot because I could understand the sonnet better. There are differences, but I think that they are necessary to understand the painting and the poem. Firstly I chose the painting because I like it and because there were many elements, I thought, easy to comment. After reading the sonnet I realized that both works were practically the same. I like this type of paper and especially this one. I have chosen Venus Verticordia because I think it would be interesting to work about women, about women’s beauty. The authors immerse the reader in the treated issue and at the same time the poem makes you think about what it is saying. These works are beautiful, simple and especially they have a simple theme. There is nothing confusing or complex.



by Merce Quiralte Moragues.

(2 March 2006)















Cited Webpages:


- Dante Gabriel Rossetti- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia foundations. Last modified 10 April 2005. Visited 19 April 2006



- Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia foundations. Last modified 10 April 2005. Visited 19 April 2006.



- BBC, painting flowers. Visited 19April 2006.



- Venus Verticordia(for a picture). jim2f@virginia.edu. Last modified 2004. Visited 19 April 2006.





- Rossetti archive. Jerome J. McGann. Visited 19 April 2006.





Academic year 2005/2006
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Merce Quiralte Moragues
Universitat de València Press