Wednesday, 18 June 2008
I have just returned from Venice, the city Ruskin found so inspirational. The work of Titian and Tintoretto were strong influences on the Pre-Raphaelites. The Scuola di San Rocco, which Ruskin had been so inspired by, was a profound experience for me. On the altar, standing on an easel was a painting of the annunciation. At first I thought it was a painting by Rossetti but discovering it was a Titian and was astonished because I knew there was something else by Rossetti which was very similar. I had to find out what it was.
The first Pre-Raphaelite painting exhibited with the initials PRB, was by Rossetti, called "The Girlhood of Mary Virgin". The composition of the painting was so similar to Titian's, even with the red cloth lying over the balustrade, that I knew this was what I had mistaken the Titian for. It was clear to me that Rossetti had painted a premonition of Titian's painting. He wrote two sonnets called The Girlhood of Mary Virgin to explain the symbols in his painting. He saw the red cloth as a symbol of the unborn Christ, the lily as innocence, the briar and palm her pain and reward. The symbolic lily carried by Rossetti's child angel mirrors the lily held by Titian's flying angel. Rossetti places this little angel in his painting as if it is watching the young Mary waiting for the moment when it will bring her the news that she is carrying God's child. The sewing basket in Titian's painting is the embroidery work that the young Mary is sewing in Rossetti's painting, taking the same shape as the lectern that she is kneeling at in prayer when the Angel Gabriel visits her in Titian's painting. The image of the glowing dove is represented in exactly the same way in both paintings, only in different areas of the picture. The main difference in Rossetti's painting is that he also includes a man outside the window tending to a vine, who is a further prophetic image of Christ - and also an older woman sitting beside Mary, who is a thoughtful St Anne, but could also represent the older Mary that she is to become. The Titian Annunciation far surpasses Rossetti's early painting in skill and drama and has much more of a sense of movement and life to it but there is something strange and fascinating about Rossetti's prophecy painting.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was one of the high points of my Venetian trip, I will never forget it. But there is one mystery, as far as we know Rossetti never went to Italy...
Posted by Teresa Howard at Wednesday, June 18, 2008