In An Artist’s Studio … Lay the Lady of Shalott

Christina Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio” struck me for multiple reasons: first and foremost, the haunting line of “he feeds on her face”. The imagery alone was enough to draw me in, but I became more interested in the poem going over it with peers in class, learning the context of Christina Rossetti’s life and how it may have influenced this posthumously published work. The poem can easily be related to her being the model for many of her brother’s paintings: after all, the woman in the poem is only “one selfsame figure” though she looks out from “all his canvases”. She is portrayed “not as she is”, but as many different fictional figures, in only a perfect, curated pose. Looking at some of the images of the paintings Christina Rossetti modeled for, I was reminded of the poem and subsequent paintings of “The Lady of Shalott,” and one of my classmates brought up the same association. The beautiful, yet often tragic, female figures of the paintings surrounding the Lady of Shalott reflect not only Christina Rossetti’s own experiences, but the more generalized experiences she describes through “In An Artist’s Studio.” “A queen in opal or in ruby dress, / A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, / A saint, an angel” are all possible paintings done of the same female model. The painting of the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse embodies multiple of these: the lady is dressed in a white, shining dress, similar to opal—she stood beside the water “queenly” as well. At the same time, she is beautiful yet nameless, known only as the “Lady of Shalott.” And as for being saint or angel-like, one could interpret the moment the painting depicts from the poem as her saint-like moment—sailing off to her death, a sacrifice she makes, “sick of shadows”, “chanting” as she drifts along the water to the light of Camelot. Finally, it is worth noting that both the poem and the painting of the Lady of Shalott depict her death as rather serene, also saintly in nature—it brings to mind the line of “In An Artist’s Studio” where Rosetti states that she, a model, is painted “not as she is, but as she fills his dream”. Both the painting and poem depicting the Lady of Shalott—nameless, queenly, angelic—were produced by men. Rossetti’s poem invites an interpretation of the poem and painting that looks at how the figure of the Lady of Shalott is represented, and why.

3 thoughts on “In An Artist’s Studio … Lay the Lady of Shalott”

  1. This was an interesting read in that with analyzing the work of Rossetti, particularly from a contextual lens in relation to her life, it’s hard not to be left with a sort of uneasiness due to tragic circumstances. I enjoyed your close reading of certain quotes from “In an Artist’s Studio”, specifically in describing the significance of “A nameless girl in the freshest summer greens.” I think in interpreting this quote from a contextual lens, there is an undeniable significance in its closeness to Rossetti’s reality, being a model for her brother’s paintings where she is only valued for her aesthetic purposes, thus implying that her “name” is irrelevant.

  2. I like the observation you made about the deaths of these women being portrayed as “serene” or “saintly.” I think it brings up an interesting point about how the ideal woman at the time was shown frozen in a point in time, young, beautiful, etc. They would stay that way forever, such as women who were asleep or dead. Several poems written about women have similar dreamlike and deathlike themes, where the women are helpless or otherwise unable to have control of their own actions.

  3. Dear Giselle Bard,
    You’re 100% correct about Rossetti’s poem in connection with both the poem and the painting of the Lady of Shalott. Am I correct in assuming that you’re also implying the underlying objectification of women since you mentioned that both the poem and the painting are produced by men and only depict the serenity of beauty? What is with men and their obsession with beautiful women and ignoring their tragic endings/backstories?? Rossetti certainly does a great job pointing this out. I wonder why beauty blinds men… I guess it’s much more pleasing to focus on the pretty aspects of a person than the ugly sufferings/flaws they have.

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