This manuscript is one of Christina Rossetti’s poetry notebooks: small, bound and lined booklets used to transcribe, in neat and carefully pencilled or inked handwriting, fair copies of her poetry after initial drafting. This volume, dating from 18 December 1856 to 29 June 1858, contains 'A Birthday', 'Up-Hill', 'Maude Clare', and 'In an Artist's Studio'.
'In an Artist's Studio'
Christina Rossetti’s sonnet, ‘In an Artist’s Studio’, is broadly concerned with the tensions between art and reality. Specifically, these tensions arise from the relationship between the male artist and the artist’s female model, the gazer and the gazed-upon.
Describing an artist who obsessively and repetitively draws and paints ‘One face’, the speaker contemplates the effect this has on the artist, model and viewer. The first lines indicate that the speaker is exploring the studio along with others (‘We found her hidden …’). The artist, reduced to a vampyric state, is shown to ‘feed upon her face by day and night’ from images, ‘Not as she is, but as she fills his dream’. The woman is idealised and objectified on ‘his canvases’, a representation of what the artist wants to see – whether that be ‘A queen’, ‘A nameless girl’, or ‘A saint, an angel’. In doing so, the speaker accuses the artist of tragically neglecting to notice that his muse is, in fact, ‘wan with waiting … with sorrow dim’.
Above all, however, Rossetti wants the reader to question: is it ever possible for the artist or poet to portray a woman ‘as she is’?
Composition and publication
Composed in December 1856, ‘In an Artist’s Studio’ remained unpublished during Rossetti’s lifetime.
After Rossetti’s death in 1894, her brother William Michael released many of the unpublished poems. ‘In an Artist’s Studio’ appears in his 1896 edited collection, New Poems by Christina Rossetti hitherto unpublished or uncollected, accompanied by the note, ‘The reference is apparently to our brother’s [Dante Gabriel Rossetti] studio, and to his constantly-repeated heads of the lady whom he afterwards married, Miss Siddal’. Indeed, the sonnet is commonly interpreted in this way. It perhaps explains Rossetti’s choice to refrain from publishing the piece – a choice presumably reinforced after Elizabeth Siddal’s death, believed accidental or suicide, in 1862.
- Full title:
- Six Notebooks used by Christina Rossetti for the inscription of fair copies of her poems
- 18 December 1856-29 June 1858
- Manuscript / Notebook / Fair copy
- Christina Rossetti
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- Held by
- British Library
- Ashley MS 1364 (2)
- Article by:
- Richard Price
Through a close reading of two sonnets, Richard Price looks at the history of the 14 line poem and considers a tradition of conventions and a tradition of alternatives.
- Article by:
- Dinah Roe
- Victorian poetry
In ‘Goblin Market’, Christina Rossetti experiments with language, form and imagery to create a world of temptation and mystery. Dr Dinah Roe considers Rossetti’s influences and the different ways in which the poem has been illustrated and interpreted since its publication.
- Article by:
- Simon Avery
- Victorian poetry, Gender and sexuality
The Victorian period witnessed massive changes in thinking about women’s roles in society. Dr Simon Avery asks how Christina Rossetti's poetry sits within this context, looking at her representations of oppression, female identity, marriage and the play of power between men and women.