In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, which has many different titles associated with it from “The Bride” to “The Beloved” to “The King’s Daughter” where the focus is supposed to be on the pale woman at the center of the painting, but race is weaved throughout every detail of this piece. There are some symbols, some explicit, and some hidden aspects of race and colonialism embedded into the deeper meaning Rossetti’s work of art.
For one, the little Black girl is at the closest one to the audience in the painting. While she is at the forefront of the image, she is also tucked in the corner of the painting. She seems to be the flower girl, but she has a lot of gold jewelry on while the rest of the women in the painting are more simple. This is playing up the historical aspect of British colonizing of African land for resources such as gold as well as the colonizing and controlling of Black bodies during slavery. While the girl is covered in gold, she is the only individual in the painting who has a naked torso, which queers the Black female body as a spectacle or as something to be looked at- there is sexualizing and fetishization of a young Black female body before she even reaches adulthood or goes through puberty.
There is one woman in the back of the painting, who for the most part is hidden from the audience’s view expept for part of her face. She seems to be either a mulatto woman, perhaps Egyptian, perhaps Muslim, perhaps Latina… It really is hard to tell exactly where she could be from, but her skin complexion gives off the impression of exoticism. It significantly represents how race is coded in Victorian English texts, just like sex, and not explicity talked about. Even when looking for a poem to pair with this painting, it was difficult to find one that related to race because Vitorian poets like Rossetti don’t explicity name the ethnicity of the female subjects. And we see here the race of this woman, her full identity, is literally hidden from the audience while the little Black girl is positioned at the forefront, holding flowers- a symbol of life and fertility.
The bride seems to be wearing not the traditional white wedding gown, but what resembles a luxurious kimono and that could be a coded reference to Orientalism and colonialism. As an audience, we do not know where the painting’s setting is supposed to be or where this wedding is located geographically. There is definitely a sense of racial otherness, foreignness, and us vs. them in this piece because there are representations of non-Western culture all clumped together in one painting. There is not just reference to one race or geographical location, the symbols are recognizable enough to make a broad guess as to what part of the world is being referenced, but also too vague to tell what specific culture or community is being represented.
Rossetti, Dante G. The Bride. 1865-1866; 1873. Tate Gallery, London. http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/s182.rap.html