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The substance of shadows: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and mimesis.

"You knew that figure, when painted, had been seen; yet it was not a thing to be seen of men."

--Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Hand and Soul" (1850) (1)

At the end of his 1883 essay on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Pater notes hat poetry has historically exercised two distinct functions. "It may," he writes, "reveal, it may unveil to every eye, the ideal aspects of common things ... or it may actually add to the number of motives poetic and uncommon in themselves, by the imaginative creation of things that are ideal from their very birth." While Rossetti, according to Pater, made significant contributions to the poetry of common things, his most characteristic work lay "in the adding to poetry of fresh poetic material, of a new order of phenomena." (2) Earlier in the essay, Pater had suggested that Rossetti's chief gift in this regard is his "sincerity" (p. 206), the ability to find exact poetic equivalents for certain private inner states. Yet because the "peculiar phase of soul" the poem reproduces is known to the poet alone, it can be grasped only by way of its poetic imitation (p. 207). Pater's figure for this paradox is suggestive: it is, he says, akin to the way "a well-trained hand can follow on the tracing-paper the outline of an original drawing below it" (p. 206). This image displaces the opposition between the original and the copy that dominates traditional accounts of mimesis, for it attributes the precision of detail conventionally associated with a strictly mimetic poetry (the tracing-paper) to a style that begins not with the real but with another work of art (the original drawing), a work that cannot be known apart from the traced copy. Rossetti's poetry faithfully reproduces a world unknowable by any other means, it is referential, but paradoxically describes a referent that can be grasped in no other way.

Rossetti never composed extended theoretical treatises, unlike so many other writers in his intellectual milieu, but he did, as Jerome McGann notes, treat his poetry and painting as a rigorous form of theoretical practice. His works draw on traditional forms and conventions but incessantly manipulate them to explore the nature of artistic production, dissemination, and response. (3) These works may not seem obviously radical to artistic sensibilities trained by modernist and post-modernist experimentation, but they are no less powerful in their questioning of entrenched theoretical traditions. Taking McGann's observation and Pater's image of the tracing paper as my starting points, I want to look in what follows at Rossetti's manipulation of the traditional theory of mimesis in a number of works that specifically evoke it. My two central examples will be the important early painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849; Tate Britain), and the short poem "Aspecta Medusa" (1870). These works powerfully reframe the Platonic opposition between art and the real. Far more than a stereotypically "aestheticist" reversal of mimesis--art over reality, the copy over the original, the artificial over the natural--Rossetti in these works radically questions Plato's insistence on the fundamental unreality of art and literature. They are akin to Pater's tracing paper: manifest copies that have the paradoxical status of originals.

According to Plato's canonical claim, works of art mime the appearance of something else and do not have a specific nature of their own. They are reducible to the function of illustration or expression, of depicting reality or conveying images of behavior worthy (or more often unworthy) of emulation. "The maker of the phantom, the imitator," Plato writes in the Republic, "understands nothing of what is, but rather of what looks like it is." (4) Either mirror or messenger, the work is inevitably lacking, secondary and dependent. It tries in vain to depict the real but is not real itself. Rossetti's works incessantly evoke the traditional theory of mimesis: mirrors, shadows, doubles, and reflections--all the machinery of Platonic theory--are pervasive in both the poetry and the painting. But these figures are never simply mimetic in their effect or their implications. The many mirror images in Rossetti's poetry, J. Hillis Miller has noted, are always "somehow different from the exact reflection" and indicate the potential slippage between the reflection and what it reflects. (5) Elizabeth Helsinger discerns a similarly uncanny play on the relation between art and its originals in the many gothic tropes that haunt Rossetti's stories and poems about portraits. (6) Rossetti's artistic practices also play with traditional mimetic paradigms. The "double works" and the sonnets on pictures offer two different renderings of the same subject (a poem and a painting), shifting attention from the relation between an imaginary copy and a real original to the relation between two putative copies. Elizabeth Prettejohn has pointed out that Rossetti would often paint a picture before deciding on its title, reversing the typical relation between the pictorial image (copy) and its mythical or historical source (original). (7) And David Wayne Thomas has argued that Rossetti's practice of creating numerous replicas of his paintings for different patrons is more than just a means of generating sales, for Rossetti saw the replicas as new works with their own unique merits. (8)

Cumulatively, these thematic and practical reworkings of mimesis foreground the material quality of the work of art, its presence as an object in the world and as the only conceivable means, following Pater's image, of perceiving the reality it depicts. Rossetti treats mimesis as one theory of representation among others, not the final word on the nature of art. Turning a mirror, as it were, on their audience, the works I will discuss encourage reflection on what Helsinger characterizes as the act of attention. For Helsinger, Pre-Raphaelite works both depict and encourage in their audience a new kind of attention toward the work of art as a material object: "Rossetti pays unusual attention to the poem's or the painting's physical making ... and also to the unpredictable effects of the artwork that survive its original context to be differently embodied (experienced and translated) by future makers. For Rossetti ... the poem or painting exists in the world as a semi-autonomous physical presence-a 'thing' that is more than its temporary life as its maker's work" (Helsinger, pp. 25-26). By making evident the material reality of the work and its "semiautonomous" action in the world, Rossetti challenges the habitual tendency of viewers and readers simply to look "through" the work to its true original (the natural world, the didactic lesson, the biographical fact). Rossetti's works make any clear distinction between the artistic copy and such originals all but impossible, frustrating this tendency and refocusing attention on the artwork itself. The works become originals by default.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (Fig. 1), Rossetti's first completed oil painting, depicts an adolescent Virgin learning to embroider under the mentorship of Saint Anne. (9) The model for the design on her embroidery is a lily with three flowers, which stands on a pile of books. A young angel stands next to the flower, while Mary's father, Saint Joachim, is pruning a grapevine--the True Vine of Christ--just outside the room. Rossetti scatters traditional Christian symbols throughout the painting. On the spines of the books are inscribed, reading from bottom to top, the names of three of the four cardinal virtues (fortitudo, temperantia, prudentia) and the three theological virtues (spes, fides, caritas). In the foreground of the painting are a seven-leaved palm and a seven-thorned briar, bound together by a scroll inscribed with the legend "tot dolores tot gaudia." This detail alludes to the seven joys (gaudia) and seven sorrows (dolores) of Mary. Behind the Virgin is a miniature church organ, carved with the initial M, and the legend "O sis Laus deo" (may you be for the praise of God). (10) On the balustrade that divides the inside from the outside of the room stand an oil lamp, a vase with a flower, a crimson cloak (emblematic of the Robe of Christ), and a trellis in the shape of a cross-all suggestive of a church altar (Bentley, p. 34). The trellis is covered with ivy--an allusion to the Biblical Tree of Jesse (a traditional attribute of the Virgin Mary), which joins Mary to the genealogical line of King David. The crimson cloak is embroidered with two sides of a triangle, each marked with signs of the Trinity and the Holy Ghost, with the unfinished point teaching--according to the interpretation offered in "Mary's Girlhood (For a Picture)," which comprises two sonnets Rossetti attached to the frame of the work on its first exhibition--that "Christ is not yet born" (II.4; Collected Poetry and Prose, p. 186).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Critics have long suggested that The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, despite its apparently traditional form and subject matter, both embodies and argues for Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic ideas. McGann calls it an "artistic manifesto" (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, p. 30). The painting arose out of the early days of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was from the start a crucial touchstone in the development of Pre-Raphaelite theory. The Brotherhood formed when Rossetti was beginning his work on the painting in the late 1840s, and the first number of The Germ was printed in January 1850, just months after Rossetti's painting was exhibited. The painting itself, as the now-familiar (but probably exaggerated) legend goes, was something of a pedagogical project of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Rossetti is said to have worked under the tutelage of Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown; he signed the painting with his own name and with the mysterious "PRB" initials. While the painting takes the form of a religious work, its aims are by no means theological. Indeed, as McGann suggests, religion here is only the medium for Rossetti's ideas about art. The agnostic Rossetti turns traditional symbols into aesthetic artifacts, which we are to appreciate for their own sake, outside of a devotional context (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, p. 30). Rather than making a religion of art, Rossetti turns religion into art, draining it of its conventional spiritual associations in order to foreground its intrinsic physical beauty. McGann's claim is persuasive, but it leaves the specific subject matter of the painting unexplained. Why would Rossetti embody his artistic manifesto in the figure of the Virgin Mary?

In one of the most suggestive readings of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Martin Meisel has argued that the painting betrays Rossetti's anxiety about mimesis. Overseen by her mother (much as Rossetti himself was purportedly overseen by Hunt and Brown), the Virgin seeks to imitate nature but can only produce what looks to be a crude imitation. While the real lily is painted with great fidelity, the lily Mary embroiders looks rudimentary-the work of an apprentice rather than a master. Meisel argues that this disparity between art and nature points to Rossetti's doubts over the ability of art to capture the full vigor of the natural world, or to gain unmediated access to the spiritual realm: "The relation between Art and Spirit is through Nature, and through Nature only." ii Meisel's reading of the painting is supported by one of the central principles of Pre-Raphaelite doctrine: the turn from academic conventions of representation to the direct observation of nature. Rossetti himself never unequivocally endorsed these aims, but in a letter concerning The Girlhood of Mary Virgin that he wrote to his godfather Charles Lyell in November of 1848, he does seem to suggest he was guided in his work by a devotion to mimetic realism. (12)

But the painting points to something other than mimetic fidelity, and it does so not by negating the aims of fidelity, but by multiplying them, radically complicating the relation between copy and original. Cannily juxtaposing allusions to Platonic theory and classical culture with the seemingly alien Christian model of fidelity, Rossetti constructs a counter-history of mimesis that foregrounds the materiality of the work, and recasts mimesis as a matter of artistic practice rather than the relation between copy and original. For example, the lily Mary copies is at once a natural object and something more. Planted indoors, it grows in a bright crimson pot (the same symbolic shade used elsewhere in the painting) and is tended by an angel with oddly pink wings. It also stands on a pile of emblematic books, suggesting that the "book of nature" is only one volume in, and ultimately rests upon, an entire library of conventional associations. In this emblematic context, the lily functions as the chief pivot point for two distinct time schemes that structure the typological imagery of the painting: the present tense of Mary's girlhood and the future tense of her role as the mother of Christi. (13) The lily is real and present in the room, a natural object, but it is also a typological shadow pointing toward a spiritual meaning to be fulfilled in the future. These details confirm Herbert Sussman's claim that Rossetti's stylistic choices in the painting "violate the naturalistic premise" of the scene. (14)

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin also gestures toward two conflicting forms of fidelity. On the one hand, Rossetti faithfully represents a domestic scene, rendering everything from the folds of Mary's dress to the flowers of the lily in minute detail. This is the mimetic form of fidelity Meisel observes in the painting. But Rossetti also is faithful to the conventions of medieval art. He draws upon traditional religious imagery and subjects, and even violates recognized rules of pictorial perspective (rules he follows elsewhere), to imitate the formal characteristics of medieval artworks. In the first instance, fidelity serves the aims of realism, taking nature as its original, while in the second case, fidelity serves the aims of tradition, taking other works of art as its original. These two forms of fidelity cancel each other out, for the painting's realism makes the medieval conventions seem primitive--even primitivist--and the medieval conventions show realism itself to be just one convention among others. Fidelity is, moreover, among the chief traditional attributes of the Virgin Mary. Taken as a model for art, this attribute gains an important new dimension. Alongside the Platonic model of representational fidelity (imitatio naturae), figured in the Virgin's needlework, Rossetti poses the religious model of devotional fidelity (imitatio Christi), figured in the Virgin's historical iconography. Art becomes at once a mirror of the world, a mirror for the past, and a form of spiritual practice, defined not by its accurate reproduction of nature, but by its abiding devotion to craft and tradition.

Perhaps the most suggestive challenge to the traditional mimetic paradigm in the painting comes from the specific art the Virgin practices. The choice of embroidery is, at first glance, quite odd. As Rossetti notes in his letter to Charles Lyell, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin belongs to the traditional subject of "the Education of the Blessed Virgin." All of the significant prior treatments of the subject, though, depict the Virgin learning to read at the knee of Saint Anne. Rossetti argues that his change from reading to embroidery makes the painting more historically accurate, for reading, he suggests, is "an occupation obviously incompatible" with the Biblical era (the books in the scene are clearly emblematic), while embroidery would be "more probable and at the same time less commonplace" (Correspondence, 1:75). Although critics have often been puzzled by it, Rossetti's idiosyncratic swerve from tradition is supported by traditional sources on the life of Mary. While there is no reference to reading in any of the early narratives of Mary's childhood, there are several accounts of her textile work. According to the most important early Christian source for details from Mary's childhood, the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, probably written in the second century, Mary was chosen from among seven virgins in the temple to spin thread for the temple veil and is taking a break from this textile work when the angel Gabriel appears to her. (15) The Golden Legend, a widely read medieval collection of saint's lives, reports that, apart from prayer, Mary spent the third to the ninth hours of her day at the temple weaving. (16) A number of early modern paintings of Mary's childhood represent the Virgin embroidering or teaching others to sew.

At least one implication of Rossetti's reworking of the traditional subject is clear: Mary is being educated as an artist rather than a reader, as a producer of beauty and not a passive recipient of it. But even given this traditional association of the Virgin with textile work, embroidery remains a puzzling choice. More so than painting or writing, embroidery is primarily a decorative art, and, therefore, according to the canons of traditional art theory, chiefly an embellishment, not a manifestly independent practice. Mary's embroidery would seem to epitomize the belated and dependent condition of all art in Platonic theory. Weaving, sewing, and embroidering, however, are long-standing figures for art, and in particular for women's art. The association (if often by opposition) of text and textile, the needle and the pen or the paintbrush, is pervasive in literary and artistic history and becomes especially important in the nineteenth century as women began to move more prominently into the literary and artistic public. (17) Mary's embroidery suggests a parallel between the traditionally secondary status of women's work and the traditionally secondary status of art, pointing to alternative traditions of artistic production that challenge the accepted order. (18) Like many other male artists of the nineteenth century, Rossetti appropriates femininity as a figure of aesthetic opposition. Mary improbably becomes a model for an incipient challenge to traditional notions of artistic representation and production, a stand-in for the aims of the (predominantly male) Pre-Raphaelite movement. (19) Indeed, much like the mythical Arachne, Mary weaves the story of a god's violation of a mortal woman: her lily anticipates the Annunciation, when she will be "deflowered" by the Holy Spirit. Arachne is punished for her transgression by being turned into a spider, while Mary becomes an object of devotion, but Rossetti's scene of education in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin implicitly compares the two women and their subversive artistic productions. (20)

The traditional subject upon which Rossetti embroiders in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin is itself both old and new--a paradoxically originary embroidery. Although the painting draws upon recognizably medieval imagery and stylistic techniques, there are in fact no known medieval examples of the subject it depicts. Indeed, the scene only became popular in the sixteenth century, and even then was mostly rendered in church sculpture. The most famous pictorial examples were completed during the Counter-Reformation in the seventeenth century. While Rossetti's style may be medieval, his subject comes from a distinctly later period. As Louis Reau notes, moreover, the scene itself is historically impossible. According to all of the known accounts of Mary's youth, the Virgin leaves her parents for the temple when she is three years old, and does not depart from the temple until her marriage to Joseph when she is an adolescent. There would be no time in Mary's life that this particular moment could have taken place, no original for which it could be a copy. (21) The scene can only be understood as an embroidery upon tradition, as a primary rather than a secondary creation. Rossetti implicitly argues that all art might be understood as a kind of embroidery. His painting uses the threads of prior artistic and theological traditions to create a new design. He reworks a traditional artistic scene by means of textual evidence and complicates it with traditional emblems that no longer serve strictly traditional purposes. The canvas becomes an exemplary fabric--and exemplary as fabric--rather than as a mirror or a window to some other reality. Painting here is undeniably a "material" thing. (22)

Rossetti's notion of an originary embroidery joins his painting to a tradition of interpreting art as a perfecting, rather than a copying of nature. Art completes what nature produces or goes beyond the strict contours defined by Plato's mimetic model. (23) This notion of mimesis as production, not simply reproduction, is implicit in Aristotle's reworking of the Platonic paradigm, but it finds its most resonant critical adumbration, for Rossetti at least, in the Renaissance notion of art as a second nature. Rossetti's painting thematizes this artistic ideal in Mary's horticultural artistic subject (the lily), and in a suggestive juxtaposition this subject sets up between Mary and her father. Although Saint Anne is Mary's most obvious mentor, there is a clear parallel between the artistic work of the Virgin and the horticultural work of Saint Joachim--a parallel highlighted by Rossetti's archaizing distortion of perspective. Much as Saint Joachim weaves vines to create a design, so the Virgin weaves threads to create an image. Both gardening and embroidery in the painting are complexly semiotic rather than simply mimetic activities. (24) Saint Joachim creates designs with nature, in cooperation with it, rather than imitating its forms. These designs are clearly artistic, but there is no ontological distinction between his artistic medium and his artistic practice, no tenable opposition between the original and the copy. Although the Virgin imitates a lily, her work is also productive of something new. It is a "material" thing, akin to nature, and not simply a medium for the presentation of something real.

In a letter to his brother William from 1851, Rossetti claims that his "picture should be described as the 'Girlhood' & by no means 'Education'" (Correspondence, 1:185). Rossetti's statement refers to the genre of the painting, not to the content of the scene, and it should not obviate the significance of the pedagogical theme of the painting to its reflection on mimesis. With its arsenal of repetition, exemplification, role modeling, and imitation, education is a kind of practical mimetics--a fact that notoriously did not escape Plato, who adumbrates his theory of mimesis out of the educational practices described in the Republic. Yet the imitating student bears a very different relationship to the teacher than the artistic copy does to its original, for both the student and the teacher are clearly and unquestionably real. In The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Rossetti implicitly asks his viewers to treat the relation among artistic styles and subjects in the painting as akin to that between teacher and student, not the illusory copy and its material original. Conflating the scene of education with the mise-en-scene of aesthetics, the painting suggests that art theories and practices are learned conventions, not unquestionable realities, and that artworks necessarily arise from and are viewed within concrete social situations. (25) Rossetti presents mimesis as one traditional artistic practice among others--theological symbolism, embroidery, art as second nature--and not the inevitable condition of all representation. The scene of education depicts artistic production as a choice among these practices.

Educational scenarios structure many of the other manifesto-like works from the late 1840s and early 1850s. The most notable example is the short story, "Hand and Soul," published in The Germ in 1850, which tells of a fictional early Italian painter, Chiaro del'Erma, who comes to reject the imitation of nature and traditional allegory under the supernatural tutelage of his female "soul." Chiaro's artistic development begins with the repudiation of his worldly master and ends with the teachings of his soul. Rossetti's drawing A Parable of Love (1850) offers a lighter but no less significant take on the relation between imitation and education. (26) The drawing depicts a woman painting her self-portrait under the tutelage of a male instructor, who holds her brush to the canvas while looking at the woman's reflection in a mirror. A Parable of Love is one of a striking number of paintings and drawings in Rossetti's corpus, generally informal or unfinished, that depict artists at work. The most famous of these are the watercolor Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (1859) and the oil painting The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice (1853), which was based on a sketch from 1849 called Dante Drawing an Angel. All of these images stress the making of art rather than its completion, the necessary acts of seeing and rendering that produce the finished representation. In A Parable of Love, Rossetti ahnost parodically underscores the twining of artistic and pedagogical imitation: the mirror is at once a reflection and an artistic tool; the self-portrait a mimetic artwork and pedagogical exercise; and the man uses the image in the mirror to help guide the woman's imitation of his movements. As in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Rossetti multiplies versions of mimesis in this drawing in order to foreground the material processes of representation, as well as the social contexts in which it occurs (the artist is clearly using his teaching as a tool of seduction-a fact suggested by the two servants knowingly observing the scene in the background).

The explicitly pedagogical sonnet "St. Luke the Painter" similarly associates artistic mimesis with learned practices of looking and the imitation of a role model. Written in 1848, and later revised and paired with two related poems in The House of Life (1870; 1881), under the collective title "Old and New Art," this poem recounts the history of painting as a story of a teacher's lessons lost and potentially re-found:
 Give honour unto Luke Evangelist;
 For it is he (the aged legends say)
 Who first taught art to fold her hands and pray.
 Scarcely at once she dared to rend the mist
 Of devious symbols: but soon having wist
 How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day
 Are symbols also in some deeper way,
 She looked through these to God and was God's priest

 And if, past noon, her toil began to irk,
 And she sought talismans, and turned in vain
 To soulless self-reflections of man's skill,--
 Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still
 Kneel in the latter grass to pray again,
 Ere the night cometh and she may not work. (Sonnet LXXIV, p. 160)


The sonnet narrates the history of art not as a sequence of changing styles or technical innovations, but as a shift in how artists regard the natural world. Following the dictates of Luke, the patron saint of painters, early artists were driven by devotional fidelity to find the divine in nature. They represent nature not for itself, but to honor its creator. Rossetti contrasts this ideal with traditional theories of mimesis in two ways. St. Luke's students initially consider their artistic practice as a kind of unveiling and try to "rend the mist" of worldly images, revealing them as mere copies--"devious symbols"--of the divine original. They soon learn that divinity resides in nature itself, not in the reality it imitates. Rossetti underscores this point by selecting examples of natural objects that border on the ineffable: "sky-breadth" and "field-silence" are not open to mimetic reproduction. Then, becoming bored with this devotional labor, the artists in Rossetti's sonnet turn to another form of mimesis: the vanity (in both senses) of self-reflection and technical perfection of reproduction. The hope for a renewed artistic practice that Rossetti holds out in the sestet tellingly coincides with the end of the day, that is, with the loss of light and thus the ability of the artists to see their objects or themselves. Darkness makes a strictly mimetic art impossible and will presumably encourage the artists to turn again to the spiritual for their inspiration. (27)

Rossetti's play on the relation between mimesis and education in these works has the potentially subversive effect of erasing any clear distinction between artist and audience. The artists in A Parable of Love and "St. Luke the Painter" are at once creators and spectators, and the practices of looking that underlie their artistic production also evoke the relationship between the artwork and its audience. Many of Rossetti's works from the 1860s and 1870s make this relationship central to their theme and composition. Prettejohn has persuasively argued that Rossetti's late paintings of "stunners" "call into question the traditional ways in which viewers respond to pictures." The paintings, she notes, break down the conventional illusion that pictorial space corresponds to real space and aggressively engage the viewer both visually and erotically ("Beautiful Women," p. 72). Although they often depict women looking out of windows, Rossetti's paintings of this period are compositionally and thematically akin to mirrors. Many of Rossetti's mature poetic works set up a similarly disconcerting relationship with their readers. Rossetti's first volume of collected works, the Poems of 1870, was made up mostly of texts originally written between 1847 and 1853. One of the few new poems included in this book was a short work entitled "Aspecta Medusa" (The Medusa Beheld). Probably written in 1865, this poem presents a searching reflection on mimesis that follows from and extends the insights of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin. (28) But whereas the painting approaches mimesis through the question of artistic practice, (29) "Aspecta Medusa" does so through the reading practices it at once solicits and forbids:
 Andromeda, by Perseus saved and wed,
 Hankered each day to see the Gorgon's head:
 Till o'er a fount he held it, bade her lean,
 And mirrored in the wave was safely seen
 That death she lived by.
 Let not thine eyes know
 Any forbidden thing itself, although
 It once should save as well as kill: but be
 Its shadow upon life enough for thee. (ll. 1-8)


Perhaps because of its apparent simplicity, this poem has been the subject of relatively little critical discussion, but it is extraordinarily rich in allusion and implications. It is built upon a complicated series of intertextual references to the foundational metaphors that inform the mimetic model of art. Whereas The Girlhood of Mary Virgin multiplies the originals it ostensibly copies, all of the references in this poem lead back to a single "original": the head of the Medusa. This original is, strictly speaking, impossible, for the reader who seeks it out is legendarily doomed; the knowledge Perseus would present to Andromeda is "not to be seen of men." Although it seems at first glance to be a poem about the danger of forbidden knowledge, "Aspecta Medusa" is in fact a poem about the necessity of representation. (30) Andromeda does not renounce her desire to see the Medusa's head, but accepts limitations on how she can see it. Understood in this way, the poem offers a lesson about the responsibilities of the artistic spectator. The best reader, for Rossetti, is one who respects the autonomy of the copy and does not regard it as the mere shadow of an ontologically superior original.

Like many of the theoretical works from the 1840s, "Aspecta Medusa" presents an educational scenario. Structurally, the text is based on the classic didactic model of the parable or exemplum. The story of Perseus and Andromeda in the poem's first stanza serves to illustrate the lesson enunciated in its second stanza. This lesson takes the form of an aphorism ("Let not thine eyes know / Any forbidden thing itself"), which purports to offer a general truth. The myth of Perseus and Andromeda, moreover, while not explicitly an educational narrative, alludes in Rossetti's telling to several recognizable educational topoi. Classical and early-modern mythographers often interpreted Perseus-who frees Andromeda from her chains, and is aided in his battle against the Gorgon by Athena, the goddess of reason and wisdom-as a figure for the power of education. (31) The Medusa's head is in this respect an emblem for the educator's control over the irrational and incomprehensible. In Rossetti's poem, Perseus is the teacher and holds the knowledge that his student Andromeda desires. He governs her access to it and is responsible for finding an adequate means of framing this knowledge for her. A sketch Rossetti began for the uncompleted painting that was to accompany this poem depicts this relation to knowledge in the placement of the figures. Perseus literally stands between Andromeda and the Medusa's head, and puts his guiding hand on his student's arm.

If "Aspecta Medusa" has the generic, thematic, and structural characteristics of a didactic poem, however, these formal qualities constitute something of a ruse. Indeed, it is by no means entirely clear what lesson the poem seeks to teach. The most obvious analogy is to the many Western

stories and fairy tales about the dangers of excessive curiosity, in particular excessive female curiosity. But while Andromeda is curious, and thus risks becoming a bad example, she is satisfied with looking at the Medusa's head in the water and resists the temptation to look at it directly. Moreover, unlike most stories about curiosity, "Aspecta Medusa" does not tell us entirely to eschew forbidden knowledge; rather, it warns us not to seek knowledge of any "forbidden thing itself." Presumably, representations of such things are fine. The poem is rich with allusions to theological structures of representation. The phrase "that death she lived by" refers to the death of the Medusa, whose severed head allows Perseus to rescue Andromeda, but it also alludes in the context of Christian theology to Christ as a sacrificial stand-in for the human race. The word "shadow" would similarly have pointed Rossetti's Victorian readers to the language of biblical typology, in which the type is akin to a shadow cast by its future fulfillment. Typology is especially pertinent to interpretations of Perseus, who has been read since late antiquity as a type of Christ. (32)

Another detail in the poem pertains even more directly to the practice of artistic representation: the head of the Medusa itself. We now tend to follow Freud in treating the Medusa as a figure for the threat of castration, but there is a long mythographical tradition that associates her effect with the power of representation. The Gorgon was among the most common figures depicted in Greek decorative art, and early literary versions of the myth allude unmistakably to the Medusa's powerful "aesthetic" impact). (33) Many versions of the myth associate the Medusa with the Muses. Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Ovid all note that the winged horse Pegasus sprang from the neck of Medusa when Perseus killed her. After his emergence, Pegasus creates the Hippocrene spring on Mount Helicon, home of the Muses, with a blow from his hoof. Ovid explicitly compares the Medusa to an artist, describing her lair as a kind of studio populated by the "forms [simulacra] of men and beasts changed into stone" by her glance. (34) After he has killed the Medusa, Perseus himself becomes an artist, using the power of the Gorgon's head to turn his enemies into what Ovid pointedly calls marble statues (signum de marmore). Later writers, from Petrarch to Shelley, follow Ovid in treating the Medusa as a figure for the uncanny power of beauty. (35)

The most important allusion to the theory of mimesis in the poem is, of course, the water mirror Perseus uses to present the Medusa's head to Andromeda. This fount recalls Socrates' famous analogy of painting with a mirror from book ten of the Republic. But the reflection in "Aspecta Medusa" is only apparently a copy. The concluding lesson of the poem, "but be/Its shadow upon life enough for thee," goes conspicuously against the grain of Plato's contrast between mere images and purely rational truth. Yet the water mirror here does more than simply reverse Plato, valorizing the image over the real. The head of the Medusa is not just any "original"; it cannot be known in any other way than as a reflection. From the perspective of human knowledge, there simply is no "real" Medusa's head apart from the mirror image. In fact, the shadow is far preferable to the truth and serves as its unavoidable placeholder. Like Andromeda, we can only choose the shadow if we wish to survive. (36) This choice constrains student and teacher, spectator and artist, alike. Perseus behaves something like a didactic poet, holding a truth he has conquered and presenting it to his "student" in a safe form. Neither Perseus nor Andromeda can turn around without danger, however. Rossetti's sketch for the unfinished painting of the scene is again telling in this regard: the image "mirrored in the wave" would not depict the Medusa alone but would superimpose the image of teacher, student, and "lesson" on the same plane. In the mirror of the work, there is no meaningful difference between artist and spectator; both are "placed" within the same frame as the image.

This dissymmetry between the image and the original that the Medusa's head introduces into the poem is also evident in the poem's relation to its mythological original. Unlike, for example, the story of Odysseus, which comes to us in the canonical form of Homer's epic, the myth of Perseus has no single origin, existing in numerous, fragmentary, and often contradictory versions. The scene that Rossetti's poem describes, moreover, does not appear in any of the canonical literary accounts of the myth. In a letter from November 1867 to his patron C. P. Matthews, who had commissioned the painting that was to have accompanied the poem, Rossetti writes that, while he has discerned "slight representations" of the scene on vases and wall decorations, "the subject does not exist in any completely rendered form that I know of." (37) Just as the Medusa can only be seen by means of representation, so the specific scene the poem depicts is available to us only by means of the poem's words. There is no single, unified original to which it stands as a copy, no unequivocal prior truth it can be said to imitate. Rossetti conceived of the scene of the poem, very much as he conceived of the scene of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, as its own original. It only "reflects" the myth metaleptically, by asserting an ancient lineage where no such lineage can definitively be said to exist.

The skewed relation between copy and original extends to the poem's didactic moral. Didactic works are consistent with the Platonic model of mimesis in one key respect: they treat the work itself as a mere image of a true original, namely the discursive lesson the image is entrusted to deliver. The images in a didactic text are, like images in Platonic theory, the inessential reflection of the truth. The scene and the didactic lesson of "Aspecta Medusa" are closely modeled on an important didactic moment from Dante's Divine Comedy--a moment that turns explicitly upon just this problem. In canto nine of the Inferno, Virgil and Dante encounter the three Furies at the gates of Dis. When they see the mortal Dante, the Furies call on Medusa to punish him for the harm that Theseus had done to them in his abduction of Persephone. In order to ward off this punishment, Virgil instructs Dante to turn around and cover his eyes, and then, to ensure his protection, places his own hands over the pilgrim's hands and physically turns him away from the dangerous sight. Dante then addresses his reader about the relation between image and idea, in words that Rossetti clearly had in mind in writing the second stanza of his poem:
 O voi ch'avete li 'ntelletti sani,
 mirate la dottrina che s'asconde
 sotto 'l velame de li versi strani.

 O you that have a sane intelligence
 Look ye unto the doctrine which herein
 Conceals itself 'neath the strange verses' veil. (38)


As John Freccero argues, this warning uses the classical image of the Medusa to figure the interpretive petrifaction that Saint Paul claims will afflict those who remain bound to the letter of the old covenant. The literal petrifaction that would befall the pilgrim if he looked at the Medusa is akin to the figurative petrifaction--the hardening of the heart and mind, in Paul's terms--that will befall those who look only at the letter of Dante's allegory and ignore its spiritual meanings. (39) The Medusa represents the threat that one might attend only to the letter or the image and ignore the spiritual lesson with which it is endowed. Dante warns that truth lies beyond the shadow, is hidden behind the allegorical veil of verses that constitute the poem. Virgil's protective gestures are, in this regard, a figure for the didactic function of poetry, the truth that should effectively blind the reader, as it were, to the mere images that convey it. With his eyes covered, Dante is not affected by the dangerous sight and can continue with his journey. In just the same way, a poem that subordinates its poetic qualities to its didactic lesson will allow the reader to learn and move on without getting caught up in and petrified by the seductive surface of images.

While Rossetti faithfully imitates Dante's scenario and structure of address, his substitution of Perseus for Virgil and Andromeda for Dante has some surprising consequences. Virgil covers Dante's eyes and turns him around; Perseus uses a reflection and instructs his student to look at it. This substitution inverts Virgil's gesture, putting an act of seeing in place of a figurative blinding. Like the veil of verses in Dante, the mirror of Medusa in Rossetti mediates between the initiate and the knowledge that is revealed to him or her. For Dante, however, the Medusa figures the literary image, the example apart from the truth it illustrates. For Rossetti, she figures the precept, the knowledge that is at once hidden and revealed by the image in the mirror. Rossetti thus disables Dante's allegorical pedagogy. Turning from the letter to the spirit--from the water mirror to the actual head--means looking at the Medusa, not lifting the veil of verses. It presages petrifaction not revelation. Instead of telling his readers not to be seduced by images, Rossetti demonstrates that they can grasp nothing but images. And rather than blinding them to the letter, Rossetti in effect blinds them to the spirit, dares them to read for the moral "original." The poem becomes autonomous by default, for there is no conceivable discursive original for the literary copy--and it is manifestly a copy--that readers encounter. In place of the Platonic mirror of nature, which figures the work as a dependent reflection of independent truths, Rossetti here holds up a mirror for his readers. "Aspecta Medusa" instructs by refusing to instruct, teaches by denying its reader the conventional satisfaction of a moral lesson or a recognizable image of the world.

Both The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and "Aspecta Medusa" bear out Jonathan Freedman's astute claim that aestheticist works "persistently creates conundrums or puzzles that are designed to elicit acts of interpretation but not to provide any resolution for them." Aestheticist writing in this way shifts "the burden of divination and imaginative understanding from the poet to the reader." (40) Both the painting and the poem imitate mimesis, borrowing the traditional language and imagery of Platonic theory to question that theory and its influence. In so doing, Rossetti reminds his audience that art is irreducibly material and real, not the insubstantial shadow of the truth that Platonic tradition imagines. (41) Rossetti does not simply dispense with mimesis, but turns a mirror on the received beliefs and practices of his audience and of contemporary artists and critics. Rossetti's theoretical works accord with the major claim about art that would become central to British aestheticism at the end of the century. In his infamous "Ten O'clock" lecture (1885), James McNeill Whistler argues for the autonomy of art from both mimesis and moral lessons by criticizing the viewing practices of contemporary audiences: "Hence it is that nobility of action, in this life, is hopelessly linked with the merit of the work that portrays it; and thus the people have acquired the habit of looking, as who should say, not at a picture, but through it, at some human fact, that shall, or shall not, from a social point of view, better their mental or moral state." (42) For Whistler, as for Rossetti, the most significant relation between art and social life comes not from the moral lessons a work conveys or the truths it reveals, but from the habits of looking that viewers bring to their experience of the material work of art. There is nothing inevitable about the habit of looking through rather than at a painting; it is a learned behavior, a social convention that has attained the status of common sense--and it is therefore a behavior subject to change.

Notes

My thanks to Liz Prettejohn and Colin Cruise for their invaluable comments on an earlier version of this essay.

(1) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. Jerome McGann (Harvard Univ. Press, 2003), p. 317. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Rossetti's poetry and prose are from this edition.

(2) Walter Pater, Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1910), p. 218.

(3) Jerome McGann, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game that Must Be Lost (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000), p. 7.

(4) Plato, The Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), pp. 284; 601c.

(5) J. Hillis Miller, "The Mirror's Secret: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Double Work of Art," Victorian Poetry 29 (1991): 333. On mirrors and reflections in Rossetti, see also David Riede, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Limits of Victorian Vision (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 128-148; J. B. Bullen, The Pre-Raphaelite Body: Fear and Desire in Painting, Poetry, and Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 123-148; and Donald Stuart, "Bitter Tears: Narcissus in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Lyrics," Victorians Institute Journal 2 (1973): 27-40.

(6) Elizabeth K. Helsinger, Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008), pp. 144-174.

(7) Elizabeth Prettejohn, "'Beautiful Women with Floral Adjuncts': Rossetti's New Style," in Julian Treuherz, Elizabeth Prettejohn, and Edwin Becker, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), p. 90. See also Prettejohn, "Rossetti and the Fleshly School," in Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2007); and Linda M. Shires' discussion of the double works in Perspectives: Modes of Viewing and Knowing in Nineteenth-Century England (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 36-61.

(8) See David Wayne Thomas, Cultivating Victorians: Liberal Culture and the Aesthetic (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), pp. 125-155. See also Andrea Henderson, "The 'Gold Bar of Heaven': Framing Objectivity in D. G. Rossetti's Poetry and Painting," ELH 76 (2009): 911-929.

(9) For the iconography of this painting, I draw chiefly on Susan Beegel, "Rossetti's Sonnets and Paintings on Mary's Girlhood: A Case Study in Reciprocal Illustration," Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 2 (1982): 1-6; D. M. R. Bentley, "Rossetti's 'Ave' and Related Pictures," VP 15 (1977): 21-35; Laura L. Doan, "Narrativity and Transformative Iconography in D. G. Rossetti's Earliest Paintings," Soundings 71 (1988): 471-483; David Todd Heffner, "Additional Typological Symbolism in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Girlhood of Mary Virgin," Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 5 (1985): 68-80; Wotfgang Lottes, "'Take out the Picture and Frame the Sonnet': Rossetti's Sonnets and Verses for his own Works of Art," Anglia 96 (1978): 108-135; Kathryn Ready, "Reading Mary as Reader: The Marian Art of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti," VP 46 (2008): 151-174; Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonne, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); and James M. Swafford, "'The Fulness of Time': The Early Marian Poems of D. G. Rossetti," Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 2 (1982): 78-91. On the relation between the painting and the two sonnets Rossetti composed about it, see Brian Donnelly, "Sonnet-Image-Intertext: Reading Rossetti's The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Found," VP 48 (2010): 475-488.

(10) Doan suggests that this detail points to Mary's role as "God's instrument" ("Narrativity," p. 476).

(11) Martin Meisel, "'Half Sick of Shadows': The Aesthetic Dialogue in Pre-Raphaelite Painting," in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, ed. U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1977), p. 315.

(12) The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ed. William E. Fredeman, 9 vols. (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002-09), 1:75-76. Rossetti writes that he was forced to put off other projects so that he could paint certain "natural objects" (presumably the lily) from life before winter.

(13) The classic studies of Victorian typology are George P. Landow, Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), and Herbert L. Sussman, Fact into Figure: Typology in Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1979).

(14) Sussman, p. 62. For a discussion of Rossetti's reasons for excluding Justice, see Heffner, "Additional Typological Symbolism."

(15) "The Protoevangelium of James," ed. Oscar Culhnann, in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL. Wilson, 2 vols. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 1:430.

(16) Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), 2:153.

(17) For a useful brief survey of this association in the context of British literature, see Kathryn R. King, "Of Needles and Pens and Women's Work," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 14 (1995): 77-93.

(18) Compare Linda Petersun's claim that the change limits Mary to a "trivial pursuit" and relegates her "to the private, domestic sphere" (Linda H. Peterson, "Restoring the Book: The Typological Hermeneutics of Christina Rossetti and the PRB," VP 32 [19941: 211). On the anti-feminist elements in this painting, see also Lynne Pearce, Woman/Image/Text: Readings in Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 31-45. On the history of the image of Mary as a reader, see Ready, "Reading Mary as Reader."

(19) On the tendency of male writers in the nineteenth century to adopt femininity as a form of subversion, see Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 91-114; and Barbara Spackman, Decadent Genealogies: The Rhetoric of Sickness from Baudelaire to D'Annunzio (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989). On the centrality of the feminine for the Pre-Raphaelites, see Kathy Alexis Psomiades, Beauty's Body: Femininity and Representation in British Aestheticism (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1997).

(20) Rossetti's painting Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850; Tate Britain), a companion piece to The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, depicts just this scene: while an eroticized Mary cowers in her bed, the angel Gabriel (in person, and not as the traditional dove) approaches with a distinctly phallic lily in his hands. Helsinger compares Mary to Leda (Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts, p. 41). For the story of Arachne, see Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984), 1:288-299.

(21) Louis Reau, Iconographie de l'art chretien, 3 vols. (Paris: PUF, 1957), 2, pt. 2: 168.

(22) One might contrast Rossetti's Mary with Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" (1832)--another medieval(ized) woman engaged in textile work who fatally rejects the "shadows" of her artistic work for the real world outside her tower.

(23) On this version of mimesis in Aristotle, see Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics, trans. Christopher Fynsk (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 255-56.

(24) It is suggestive that two of Rossetti's subsequent paintings, both from 1854-55, depict the Virgin as a gardener: the watercolor Mary Nazarene shows the Virgin tending a lily in a garden; and another watercolor, The Passover in the Holy Family, depicts her picking bitter herbs for the feast.

(25) Many of the early responses to Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite movement figured its challenge to the artistic establishment as a revolt of the students against their teachers. In his widely read 1853 lecture "Pre-Raphaelitism," Ruskin traces the origins of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood not to abstract artistic principles or to a nostalgic longing for the past, but to the rough and tumble of schoolroom politics: "Pupils in the same schools, receiving precisely the same instruction which for so long a time has paralysed every one of our painters,-these boys agree in disliking to copy the antique statues set before them. They copy as they are bid, and they copy them better than any one else; they carry off prize after prize, and yet they hate their work. At last, they are admitted to study from the life; they find the life very different from the antique, and say so. Their teachers tell them the antique is the best, and they mustn't copy the life. They agree among themselves that they like the life, and that copy it they will. They do copy it faithfully, and their masters forthwith declare them to be lost men. Their fellow students hiss them whenever they enter the room. They can't help it; they join hands and tacitly resist both the hissing and the instruction" (John Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. [London: George Alien, 1903-19121, 12:155-156).

(26) For A Parable of Love (alternately titled Love's Mirror), see http://www.preraphaelites. org/the-collection/1904P491/loves-mirror-or-a-parable-of-love/

(27) There are a number of Renaissance pieces that show Saint Luke painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary, and, like The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, they depict a historically impossible encounter: Luke lived many years after the events he describes, but because he gives the fullest account in the synoptic Gospels of Mary's life he is said to have "painted" her portrait in words. For a useful discussion of Luke as a painter, see Daniele Alexandre-Bidon, "La transfiguration de Saint Luc a travers l'iconographie medievale" in Figures de l'ecrivain au moyen age, ed. Danielle Buschinger (Goppingen: Kummerle Verlag, 1991), pp. 7-23.

(28) Rossetti sent a copy of the poem, unchanged from the version printed in the 1870 volume, in a letter to his mother from July 20, 1867, though it seems to have been written as early as 1865. It is worth noting that the owner of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin had sent the painting back to Rossetti for some repairs at the end of 1864. Rossetti did not return the painting to its owner until the summer of 1866, well after he had written "Aspecta Medusa." We might speculate that the pedagogical thematic in the poem was suggested by renewed acquaintance with the painting.

(29) For the painting Aspecta Medusa, see http://www.preraphaelites.org/thecollection/1904P348/ perseus-and-andromeda-aspecta.medusa/

(30) Most of the critics who have written about the poem offer some variation of this interpretation, arguing that "Aspecta Medusa" narrates the containment of Andromeda's curiosity, especially her curiosity about sexuality. Bram Dijkstra, for example, suggests that Rossetti's aim in the poem is to combat the "gorgonlike" aspect of female narcissism (Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986], pp. 137-138). Martin Danahay argues that the poem depicts Perseus rescuing Andromeda "from the danger of her own sexuality" ("Mirrors of Masculine Desire: Narcissus and Pygmalion in Victorian Representation," VP 32 (1994): 48). David Riede suggests the poem "invokes the classical tradition to justify its 'strong savour' of death, forbidden knowledge, and the fatal appeal of female sexuality" (Dante Gabriel Rossetti Revisited [New York: Twaine, 1992], pp. 91-92).

(31) Early modern mythographers made much of this association, often interpreting the myth as the victory of reason over the passions, educated over instinctual humanity. See Sylvia Huot, "The Medusa Interpolation in the Romance of the Rose: Mythographic Program and Ovidian Intertext," Speculum 62 (1987): 865-877.

(32) On this mythographic tradition, see Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods, trans. Barbara F. Sessions (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 223. Victorian painters and poets, including Rossetti, often elaborated upon this reading, drawing typological associations between Perseus and Saint George (another common figure for Christ), and between Andromeda and the Virgin Mary. See Adrienne Auslander Munich, Andromeda's Chains: Gender and Interpretation in Victorian Literature and Art (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989).

(33) On the symbolism and ritual functions of the Medusa's head in Greek culture, see Camille Dumoulie, "Le poete et la Meduse," Nouvelle Revue Francaise 462 (1991): 199-220; Edward Phinney, "Perseus' Battle with the Gorgons," Transactions and Procedings of the American Philological Association 102 (1971): 445-463; Tobin Siebers, The Mirror of Medusa (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1983), pp. 1-26; and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, ed. Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 111-138. On Medusa as a figure for poetry in the Renaissance, see Miranda Johnson Haddad, "Ovid's Medusa in Dante and Ariosto: The Poetics of Self-Confrontation," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 19 (1989): 211-225.

(34) Ovid, Metamorphoses, l:233. Ovid also uses the word simulacum for Pygmalion's statue and the image of Narcissus in the pool.

(35) On the Medusa as a figure for beauty in the nineteenth century, see Jerome McGann, "The Beauty of the Medusa: A Study in Romantic Literary Iconology," Studies in Romanticism 11 (1972): 3-25; and Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 25-52. On Victorian Medusas see Elisabeth G. Gitter, "The Power of Women's Hair in the Victorian Imagination," PMLA 99, no. 5 (1984): 936-954; and Kent Patterson, "A Terrible Beauty: Medusa in Three Victorian Poets," Tennessee Studies in Literature 17 (1972): 111-120.

(36) For more on this aspect of the Medusa, see Thomas Albrecht's perceptive reading of "Aspecta Medusa" in The Medusa Effect: Representation and Epistemology in Victorian Aesthetics (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 1-14.

(37) Correspondence, 3:590. Matthews objected to Rossetti's design, and eventually withdrew the commission. The painting was never finished, but three sketches remain. While the scene Rossetti describes does not occur in any familiar classical versions of the story (and is not mentioned in Lempriere's Classical Dictionary, Rossetti's usual source for mythological references), there are, as he notes, a few extant Pompeiian mosaics and Greek vase paintings that resemble the scene depicted in Rossetti's unfinished painting, as well as several imitations of these works from the eighteenth century. Rossetti likely knew of the Pompeiian examples; in "Notes on Some Pictures of 1868," Swinburne, who was still close to Rossetti at the time, mentions these scenes in his discussion of the sketches for the painting, and writes--slyly alluding to the myth it depicts--that the subject is "old and well-worn," though here "renewed and reinformed with life by the vital genius of the artist" (Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Edmund Gosse and Thomas Wise, 20 vols. [London: Heinemann, 1925-27], 15:215). The important point of the letter is that Rossetti conceived of his poem and design as adding to a still fragmentary myth rather than reproducing some fully extant portion of it. On the sources for Rossetti's poem, see Monica Grasso, "'Aspecta Medusa': notes sur la diffusion d'une iconographie entre deux siecles," Retour au XVIIIe siele, ed. Roland Mortier, et al. (Brussels, Belgium: Editions de l'Universite de Bruxelles, 1994), pp. 127-135; and Laurence Roussillon, "Aspecta Medusa: The Many Faces of Medusa in the Painting and Poetry of Dante Rossetti," Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 11 (2002): 5-18.

(38) Inferno, canto 9, 11. 61-63; the English translation is by William Michael Rossetti, quoted in Maria Francesca Rossetti, A Shadow of Dante (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1914), p. 74. On the Rossetti family's interest in Dante, see Alison Milbank, Dante and the Victorians (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 131-149.

(39) John Freccero, "Medusa: The Letter and the Spirit," in Dante: The Poetics of Conversion, ed. Rachel Jacoff (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), p. 123.

(40) Jonathan Freedman, Professions of Taste: Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 29, 35.

(41) In this regard, I would dispute Marcus Bullock's claim that "the complex self-consciousness that thematizes the work of composition itself within the writing is much rarer in Rossetti than in Baudelaire" (Marcus Bullock, "Benjamin, Baudelaire, Rossetti, and the Discovery of Error," Modern Language Quarterly 53 [1992]: 204). This may be true on the level of theme, but not in terms of allusion and imagery, which, as McGann demonstrates, were Rossetti's chief means of theoretical self-reflection.

(42) James McNeil Whistler, Whistler on Art, ed. Nigel Thorp (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), p. 81.
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