Saturday, 10 November 2007
I am interested to find out any more evidence of what took place on that first meeting between Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Burden at the theatre in Oxford. From what I have read it is assumed that Gabriel saw her in the gallery, from his place in the stalls. It would be difficult to see anyone in the gallery very well, even if they were tall, especially with the dim victorian gas lighting. All eyes would be on the stage, not looking back towards the gallery. Although biographers presume that Jane was probably in service at the time of their meeting, there is also no actual evidence to back this up, as far as I know.
I had an idea, like a thunderbolt, this morning - perhaps Jane was not a member of the audience - was she perhaps involved with the theatre in some way? Did she secretly long to be an actress? Did she watch every play on at the theatre?
Having the talent of an actress would explain so much - her ability to perform so well in social situations, her linguistic skill in both changing her Oxfordshire accent and learning other languages, and the breadth of her literary knowledge in Shakespeare and Dickens from the very start of her relationship with Morris. She even called Morris a Philistine because he did not like opera or music very much. She was described as "queenly", which seems odd for a woman who began life as a maid, even Nelson's Emma Hamilton never made such a brilliant transformation.
Jane, sits as women from history in so many of Gabriel's paintings... more than any of his other models. Some of the characters she portrayed were: Bruna Brunelleschi, Astarte, Aurea Catena, Beatrice, Proserpine, Desdemona, Isolde, Guenevere, Mariana, Mnemosyne, Pandora, Gretchen, Lady Macbeth and Princess Sabra.
Jane Burden's acting skills seem to be one of the things that drew Rossetti to her, for only she could bring to life so many of the women from history who inspired him. Above is a pencil drawing by Rossetti circa 1875 entitled The Death of Lady Macbeth. In the Catalogue Raisonne no name is given for the model in this drawing, but it is clearly Jane.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Saturday, November 10, 2007