Page:Pictures & poems.djvu/12

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

INTRODUCTION

tions, marking the high level of his faculty, whether inventive or executive. One writer, paraphrasing Holman Hunt's generous verdict on Millais' painting "Lorenzo at Supper with Isabella and her Brothers," does not hesitate to pronounce "The Blessed Damozel," "the most wonderful poem that any youth still under twenty years of age ever produced in the world." This is a sweeping assertion, but is the praise too high? There had been, up to that time, nothing at all like it in English literature. The interpretation of mystical thoughts by concrete images was startlingly original; original as few poems but those by masters of the craft can be said to be. During the twenty years that elapsed between its appearance in "The Germ" and its publication in the "Poems," the public had seen the production of much poetry indirectly influenced by it, and when it appeared in 1870 in its revised form the critics were loud in their praises. One can only surmize the enthusiasm of the select few who read the first version in 1850!

Rossetti's first picture painted strictly according to the pre-Raphaelite ideals was "The Girlhood of Mary, Virgin." Mr. F. G. Stevens, writing as late as 1894, and therefore, we may conclude, unswayed by any temporary enthusiasm, says: "A picture which, apart from its prodigious merits and simply as the first work of a painter whose training had been both brief and interrupted, I never cease to look upon with indescribable wonder. A little flat and gray, and rather thin in painting, it is most carefully drawn and soundly modelled, rich in good and pure coloring, and in the brooding, dreamy pathos, full of reverence and yet unconscious of 'the time to come,' which the Virgin's still and chaste face expresses, there is a vein of poetry, the freshest and most profound..... His sister Christina sat for the Virgin, his mother for St. Anne. The Child-Angel was painted from a younger sister of Mr. Woolner." This picture and "Ecce Ancilla Domini!", to which by natural sequence it leads, are the only two painted by Rossetti according to the strict pre-Raphaelite standard. With the success of Millais' "A Huguenot" in 1850, the first phase of pre-Raphaelitism ended and the Brotherhood ceased to exist; it had been organized to change public taste; it did change it, and having accomplished its object, disbanded; not to fade away, but to broaden and embrace other things. All dogmas and attempts at an accuracy impossible for the natural eye to perceive were abandoned, and in their place came a greater love of color, beauty, passion and sweet sound. In this second phase the leaders were Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris and Burne-Jones.

Rossetti, in any age, with his subtle and ardent mind, must have been a leader. Animated throughout his life by an ideal of beauty, both in poetry and in painting,