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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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II.5 Approaching Beatific Vision: Rossetti and the Attainment of the Grail

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II.5Approaching Beatific Vision: Rossetti and the Attainment of the Grail128

Commissioned by Ellen Heaton in the early 1860s,129 How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sancgreal; But Sir Percival’s Sister Died by the Way (1864) was based on the preparatory design The Attainment of the Sanc Grael (1857), as stated in II.4. Despite the time gap between both renditions, Rossetti implemented few changes in the watercolour, maybe because the original disposition of characters was particularly useful to him in expressive terms. We may nonetheless spot some minor changes such as:

a.The identifying inscriptions above the heads of the knights in the study for the Oxford Project are missing in both the unfinished design and the 1864 rendition. Rossetti had previously employed this feature – sometimes found in Romanesque art – in his study of the Grail Damsel for Sir Launcelot’s Vision of the Sanc Grael (1857). In that case, the motto Ancilla Sanc Grael found its way onto the finished panel. For some reason, the artist did not proceed in the same way when executing the watercolour displaying Galahad’s triumph. It may be adduced that the reduced dimensions of the painting could have made it difficult for the artist to write the names of these knights with enough ease. Another option could be that those letters would have cast a rather unbecoming aesthetic effect upon the finished visual work, and so, in order to avoid any risk, Rossetti could have eliminated them...

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