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Women in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Arthurian Renditions (1854–1867)

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José María Mesa Villar

This scholarly but accessible volume traces the impact of the enduring themes and key women characters from Arthurian tradition in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s artistic corpus. Combining literary and visual analysis, the author opens a double perspective upon the past to emphasize that the painter-poet’s renditions on the legend of Camelot should not be read only as merely illustrative of pre-existing textual sources. Quite on the contrary, his personal take stands out as an eclectic exercise of revaluation providing additional insight into his professional preoccupations and view of the self.
Unfolding in three sections, the book first focuses on the tragic love triangles in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and so on Rossetti’s portrayal of Guinevere and La Belle Yseult. Next, it considers the value of female mediating presences and inter-gender unity in the Grail Quest. The third set of chapters addresses Rossetti’s view of chivalric paternalism and romantic rescue. For reasons of complementation and contrast, this last section also includes an analysis of the painter-poet’s contribution to the stained glass series on the legend of Saint George and the dragon.
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I. Tragic Amorous Relationships in the Context of Arthurian Experience

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I.Tragic Amorous Relationships in the Context of Arthurian Experience

I.1An Assessment of Guinevere’s Responsibility for the Rise and Fall of Camelot

Approaching Guinevere reveals itself as a matter of perspective. Her figure, just like those of other Arthurian characters, has been chiselled by a variety of authors along a time span comprising more than nine hundred years. Owing to their particular circumstances and motivations, her defining features have fluctuated along a transformational process still operative in the second half of the twentieth century, especially – though not exclusively – in movies such as Joshua Logan’s Camelot (1967), John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) or Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995). This state of affairs has fostered a certain degree of ‘confidence’ or ‘familiarity’ in the modern mind, leading many to connect her with a set of characteristics which may have not prevailed in foregoing readings or which could entail a different set of implications depending on a given socio-political and religious context. Present-day dialogues about the Arthurian myth somewhat reflect the revivalist spirit pervading those from the nineteenth, late-fifteenth or mid-twelfth centuries: as such, each of these gazes down the stream of time required pondering over the interaction between past and present while also carrying out a revision of the legend, together with its crucial elements and main agents.

Understandably enough, Rossetti’s Guinevere is the product of an individual conscience and belongs to a precise synchrony. Nonetheless, in order to gain further insight into her representation in the works...

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